The Man Who Knew Infinity by Robert Kanigel

2017 Limelight Reviews

Robert Kanigel’s The Man Who Knew Infinity is a fascinating, all-encompassing biography written in 1991 and adapted to film in 2015. Actors Dev Patel and Jeremy Irons portrayed Srinivasa Iyengar Ramanujan and his collaborator G.H. Hardy.

Ramanujan was the legendary young Indian self-taught mathematician. Born in Madras in southern India, he was a devout Brahmin Hindu.  No one knows from whence his sheer genius at mathematics came. He was born into a poor family and struggled with formal education and qualifications yet wrote down his mathematical theories and treatises in notebooks. Whilst working as a clerk in an office, his friends encouraged him to seek assistance from abroad. He wrote an eight page letter full of mathematical proofs to the Cambridge professor of mathematics, G.H. Hardy, and changed that man’s life and the world of mathematics forever.

This book is the basis for the film, but also gives so much more detail about Ramanujan and his life. If you enjoy biographies, do read this book. Likewise if you are interested in the strict Brahmin way of life, Cambridge University during the four years of WWI (austerity, rationing, freezing conditions) or in-depth side stories about other famous mathematicians (before and after Ramanujan), this book will be most satisfying.  It is filled with Ramanujan’s equations too, enough to demonstrate the sheer beauty of his thoughts and work without turning into a textbook.

Ramanujan died, too young, at the age of 32 from tuberculosis. Born in 1887, died in 1920, he was the beacon of light at Cambridge for five short years. The world still wonders what might have been, had his god granted him a few more years.

Find The Man Who Knew Infinity by Robert Kanigel in the SMSA Library Catalogue


Belinda Coombs
Member of the SMSA Mystery & Crime Reading Group