When I ordered this book, Théorème Vivant (Alive Theorem), by Cédric Villani, I had misgivings about it being yet another illustration of the, pardon my French!, universal “pipolisation” process that turns values upside down and sets mundane aspects of major contemporary figures above their true achievements like, say, winning a Fields medal! However, as soon as I started reading Théorème Vivant, I realised it was a fascinating delve into the way mathematicians operate and how they build theorems. Of course, as an “insider”, I can find many entry points to relate to, some quite mundane and unrelated like entering the common room of a conference centre in the middle of the night to “steal” some life-saving tea bags or an aversion to taxi rides, not mentioning an addiction to French cheeses… And I have the advantage of being able to read the math formulas given in the book (even though this is not at all my area of expertise and I find the wording of the theorems and proofs rather unusual at times). But I think Théorème Vivant can be read by non-mathematicians as well, provided they take those formulas and paper extracts as pictures, just like the drawings of mathematicians interspeded throughout the book and do not get annoyed at not understanding the meaning of them (I do not get the deepest levels either!). Nothing to be afraid of: Théorème Vivant is another impressive illustration of the ability of Cédric Villani to explain mathematics to the general public and to surf upon his popularity with the medias. (The book is currently available in French only, but should soon be translated into English. Possibly polishing the least politically correct statements…) Continue reading
Archive for Princeton
Another busy day as I visited the University of Chicago Booth School of Business. This was my first time visit to this impressive building (and my first visit to Chicago for 25 years…) I actually had to leave Ames at 4:30 (am!) to catch a plane in Des Moines at 6:50 and be at the Chicago Booth before my first appointment at 10… Everything worked out fine, despite the potential for disruption due to the storm Sandy (just spotted a few big waves along the waterfront on my way to the University), and I had a definitely productive sequence of discussions. The talk on ABC was again well-attended and, because this was an econometric seminar (as in Princeton), definitely lively with a flow of questions all along. (There were also a few people from Biology, for whom the focus on our consistency result was presumably less interesting than for econometricians.) As in Ames, I did not manage to reach the part on empirical likelihood. Fodder for another seminar! The day ended by a meal in a superb restaurant with my favourite wine, Saint-Joseph, after which I was ready for a few hours of sleep..! And then a few hours to spend in the Art Institute of Chicago before flying back to Paris. Direct, courtesy of Sandy.
I bought this book in Princeton bookstore mostly because it was a such beautiful object! I had never heard of Nathan Larson nor of the Dewey Decimal System when I grabbed the book and felt the compulsion to buy it!
The book published by Akashic Books is indeed a beautiful book: the paper is high quality, a warm crème colour, the cover has inside flaps, the printing makes reading very enjoyable, the pages are cut in such a way that looking at the book from the fore edge makes it look like a Manhattan skyline… Truly a beautiful thing!!!
Once I had opened the book, I also got trapped by the story, an unusual style along with a great post-apocalyptic plot (not The Road, of course!, but what can compare with The Road?!) and a love of New York City that permeates the pages for sure! A magistral début for a new author. While the action takes place in an unpleasant future New York City, with disease and ruin on ever street corner, slowly recovering from a mega 9/11 style attack, the central character relates very much to Chandler‘s private detectives, but also, as mentioned in another review, to Jerome Charyn’s Isaac Seidel! The main character, only known as Dewey Decimal for his maniac idée fixe of ordering the books in the New York Library where he lives, is bordering on the insane and his moral code is rather heavily warped, witness several rather gratuitous murders in the book, but the whole city seems to have fallen very low in terms of this same moral code… As well as being under the rule of Eastern European thugs (to the point of the hero speaking Russian and Ukrainian). The blonde fatale found in every roman noir is slightly carituresque (“plastic surgery in any amount just makes me want to puke. Call me judgmental, but it indicates a certain set of accompanying goals, fashion choices and behaviors. It’s trashy and it means you don’t like yourself.“), with whiffs of ethnic cleansing activities in Serbia and she remains a mystery till the end of the novel. As are most other characters, in fact. This may be the low tide part of the book, that everything is perceived from Dewey’s eyes to the point of making others one-D and hard to fathom… But the overall scheme of following this partly insane detective throughout New York City makes the Dewey Decimal System quite an unconventional pleasure to read and I am looking forward the next story in the series.