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The Fractalist: Memoir of a Scientific Maverickby Benoit Mandelbrot
Synopses & Reviews
A fascinating memoir from the man who revitalized visual geometry, and whose ideas about fractals have changed how we look at both the natural world and the financial world.
Benoit Mandelbrot, the creator of fractal geometry, has significantly improved our understanding of, among other things, financial variability and erratic physical phenomena. In The Fractalist, Mandelbrot recounts the high points of his life with exuberance and an eloquent fluency, deepening our understanding of the evolution of his extraordinary mind. We begin with his early years: born in Warsaw in 1924 to a Lithuanian Jewish family, Mandelbrot moved with his family to Paris in the 1930s, where he was mentored by an eminent mathematician uncle. During World War II, as he stayed barely one step ahead of the Nazis until France was liberated, he studied geometry on his own and dreamed of using it to solve fresh, real-world problems. We observe his unusually broad education in Europe, and later at Caltech, Princeton, and MIT. We learn about his thirty-five-year affiliation with IBM’s Thomas J. Watson Research Center and his association with Harvard and Yale. An outsider to mainstream scientific research, he managed to do what others had thought impossible: develop a new geometry that combines revelatory beauty with a radical way of unfolding formerly hidden laws governing utter roughness, turbulence, and chaos.
Here is a remarkable story of both the man’s life and his unparalleled contributions to science, mathematics, and the arts.
“Mandelbrot changed the way we look at a wide range of random phenomena from commodity prices to the shapes of mountains, rivers, and coastlines….The memoir captures the enthusiasm as well as the memories of a visionary who loved nothing better than studying complex multidisciplinary concepts.” Publishers Weekly
“‘When I find myself in the company of scientists,’ W. H. Auden wrote, ‘I feel like a shabby curate who has strayed by mistake into a drawing room full of dukes.’ Benoit B. Mandelbrot (1924-2010) had the kind of beautiful, buzzing mind that made even gifted fellow scientists feel shabby around the edges…The Fractalist evokes the kinds of deceptively simple questions Mandelbrot asked — ‘What shape is a mountain, a coastline, a river or a dividing line between two river watersheds?’ — and the profound answers he supplied.” Dwight Garner, The New York Times
“Memoir of a brilliant mathematician who never thought of himself as a mathematician…charmingly written.” Kirkus
“The Fractalist is a well-written tale of a scientific life, complete with first-person accounts of a surprising range of scientific greats.” Stephen Wolfram, The Wall Street Journal
About the Author
A graduate of the École Polytechnique, Benoit Mandelbrot obtained his doctorate from the University of Paris and spent more than thirty-five years at IBM as a research scientist. Best known as the father of fractal geometry, he transformed our understanding of information theory, economics, fluid turbulence, nonlinear dynamics, and geophysics. He died in 2010.
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