Being a review of A Certain Ambiguity by Gaurav Suri & Hartosh Singh Bal.
This book was the winner of the 2007 Award for Best Professional/Scholarly Book in Mathematics by the Association of American Publishers.
Ravi Kapoor, a young man from India, is studying at Stanford in the late 1980s. Like many college students, he is struggling to determine the path of his future life. He happens upon a class on infinity, a subject that reminds him of his dearly departed grandfather, Vijay Sahni. His grandfather had his own struggles – while visiting a small town in New Jersey in 1919, he is arrested for blasphemy.
The book examines Ravi’s dual endeavors to choose a direction in life and to resolve the contradiction between the grandfather he knew and loved and the man accused of blasphemy. Mathematics is the key to understanding himself and his grandfather.
The stories of the two main characters are compelling, especially that of Vijay’s. The authors have managed to create rich characters, interesting plots and satisfying conclusions. But the authors have also managed to create an easy primer for non-mathematicians on some fundamental areas of mathematics. Here, for easy consumption are the basics of infinity, the Pythagorean theorem, prime numbers, non-Eudlidean geometry, and set theory. All, in under 300 pages.
Jarring for me, but probably unimportant to most readers, the authors – each with a degree in mathematics — mistakenly state there is no proof that there is an infinite number of prime pairs, that is prime numbers separated by two. (The issue will be clear if you read the book.) There actually is a rather simple proof.
Although this is not speculative fiction in the strictest sense, it is fiction for those who love Lewis Carroll, Martin Gardner, Edwin Abbott Abbott’s Flatland or Clifton Fadiman’s Fantasia Mathematica.