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THE MAN WHO KNEW INFINITY: A Life of the Genius Ramanujan

In 1913, a twenty-five-year-old Indian clerk with no formal education wrote a letter to G.H. Hardy, then widely acknowledged as the premier English mathematician of his time. Srinivasa Ramanujan begged Hardy's opinion regarding several ideas he had about numbers. Hardy realized that the letter was a work of genius.

Thus began one of the most productive and unusual scientific collaborations in history, that of an English don and an impoverished Hindu genius whose like has never been seen again. Hardy arranged for Ramanujan to sail for England, leaving behind his wife and mother in Madras. Ramanujan's isolation from his family and the intensity of his work eventually took their toll, and within seven years of leaving India he was dead. For Hardy the collaboration with Ramanujan was "the one truly romantic incident of my life."

Robert Kanigel's achievement is not simply to make Ramanujan's science accessible, but to show the pleasure, the excitement, and the love of numbers that inspired it. Here is a life and a life's work that resound a century later, a testimonia to the truth that genius can flower in the most unlikely places, and a biography with all the drama, the richness, and the cultural sweep of a fine historical novel.

-- From the dustjacket of the Scribners hardcover edition, 1991

Publishing History

Scribner's hardcover, 1991
U.K. hardcover, Scribner's, 1991
Washington Square Press paperback, 1992
U.K. paperback, Abacus, 1992
Indian edition, Rupa, 1992
German edition, Vieweg Verlag, 1993
Cassette book, National Library for the Blind, 1993
Japanese edition, Kousakusha, 1994
Korean edition, Science Books, 2000
Chinese editions, Shanghai Scientific, 2002, 2008
Italian edition, Rizzoli, 2003
Thai edition, Matichon, 2007
Audio edition, Blackstone Audio, 2007
Greek edition, Travlos, 2008

Book-of-the-Month Club selection
Quality Paperback Book Club selection
National Book Critics Circle Award finalist, 1992
Los Angeles Times Book Prize finalist, 1991
Library Journal, Best Sci-Tech Books of 1991
New York Public Library, Book to Remember, 1991
New York Times Book Review, Notable Books of the Year, 1991
Film option held by Matt Brown/​Edward R. Pressman

Selected reviews: Kirkus (starred), Publisher's Weekly, Booklist (starred), New York Times, New York Times Book Review, Los Angeles Times, Christian Science Monitor, San Francisco Chronicle, Boston Phoenix, Washington Post, New York Review of Books, Byte, Science, Indian Express (India), New Scientist, Virginia Quarterly Review, American Mathematical Monthly, The Independent (U.K.), Times Literary Supplement (U.K.), Far Eastern Economic Review, American Scientist, Isis, Sewanee Review

Original Scribners hardcover edition, 1991

"A fascinating account of Ramanujan's life which reads like a sad romantic novel." -- Julius Axelrod, Nobel laureate

"This is the best biography of a mathematician, in fact of any scientist, that I have ever read." -- Bruce Berndt, University of Illinois

"Enthralling...One of the best scientific biographies I've ever seen." -- John Gribbin, author of In Search of Schrodinger's Cat

-- From the dustjacket of the Scribner's hardcover edition, 1991

Italian edition, L'uomo che vide l'infinito, Rizzoli, 2003

Japanese hardcover edition, Kousakusha, 1994
Movie tie-in edition, Washington Square Press, 2016

Washington Square Press 16th printing

Review Excerpts

"A moving and astonishing biography." -- Publishers Weekly

"A brilliantly realized biography...Kanigel's particular interest in how primitive superstition, India's bureaucratic mind-set, English spiritual asceticism, and a Western war combined to destroy the miracle of Ramanujan's genius adds deeper dimensions to the already fascinating story of a difficult but astoundingly fruitful cross-cultural collaboration." -- Kirkus [starred review]

"It is a magic, tragic ugly-duckling fable that Robert Kanigel tells...A remarkable story." -- New York Times

"A story at least as compelling as Brian Epstein's discovery of the Beatles...Kanigel paints an exquisite protrait...[His] richly detailed roadmap to strange, wondrous, foreign cultures -- not just British and Indian but also the culture of higher mathematics -- makes for the rarest of literary experiences, a compendium of challenging philosophical ideas that is actually a compelling read." -- Los Angeles Times

"One of the finest, best documented biographies ever published about a modern mathematician." -- Martin Gardner, Raleigh News and Observer

"The most luminous expression ever of two three-dimensional lives along both personal and professional axes. As a presentation of genius interacting with genius, I've seen nothing to compare with it." -- Hugh Kenner, Byte

"A superbly crafted biography...[Kanigel's] exceptional triumph is in the telling of this wonderful human story." -- Science

"Even a complete innumerate can enjoy Mr. Kanigel's richly detailed book...Kanigel desmontrates considerable psychological acumen in his portait of the two central figures...A thoroughly captivating book." -- New York Times Book Review

"An extraordinary compelling biography, richly textured with social, psychological, personal, and mathematical details...A warm, romantic tale that would be beyond the scope of imagination were it not, after all, true. [Other] reviewers justly praise this book as one of the best scientific biographies ever written." -- American Mathematical Monthly

"Perspicacious, informed, imaginative, [The Man Who Knew Infinity] is to my mind the best mathematical biography I have ever read...[It]is not just a brilliant biography of Ramanujan, the genius born in a hovel. Nor is it a 'life and works,' part one Life, part two Works. It is a sensitive and intimate portrait of Ramanujan, the human being, who lived for mathematics....You do not need to have any sympathy at all with mathematics to read The Man Who Knew Infinity with pleasure; but by the time you have finished it, some of Ramanujan's love of his subject will probably have rubbed off on you, and you will have begun to appreciate the hypnotic fascination that it exerts upon those who make it their life's work." -- New York Review of Books

Washington Square Press paperback, 1992

Abacus paperback edition [U.K.], 1992

Review Excerpts, U.K. Edition

"This is a fine example of a work of popularising mathematics, and deserves a wide readership." -- New Scientist

A "fascinating biography...Kanigel has written an exciting and thoughtful book." -- The Independent

"This is a grand read, enthralling in every paragraph...the sort of book that makes you realise what a marvellous thing it is to be human." -- Huddershield Daily Examiner

"A noteworthy performance." -- Times Literary Supplement

"This is the first comprehensive biography [of Ramanujan] and is likely to remain the canonical reference book for all aspects of his brief life for many years to come...[I] can recommend it wholeheartedly to both mathematicians and to general readers." -- The Mathematical Gazette

"Poignant and absorbing." --

German edition, Verlag Vieweg, 1993

Original Washington Square Press paperback edition, 1992