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The Fractalist; Memoir of a Scientific Maverick

Mandelbrot, Benoit B.

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ISBN 10: 0307377350 / ISBN 13: 9780307377357
Published by Pantheon, New York, 2012
Condition: Very good Hardcover
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About this Item

xvii, [1], 324, [6] pages. Illustrations. Index. Acknowledgment by Aliette Mandelbrot. Afterword by Michael Frame. The author died in 2010, before these memoirs were published. Red dot on bottom edge. Derived from a Kirkus review: Memoir of a brilliant mathematician who never thought of himself as a mathematician. Early in life, he learned about Johannes Kepler, whose geometric insights changed the nature of astronomy, and Mandelbrot made it one of his goals to achieve a similar breakthrough. Part of the reason is that Mandelbrot's work had wide-ranging impact is that his insights apply across many disciplines. The author spent the World War II years in a provincial town, away from the attention of the occupiers. Along the way, he made the acquaintance of an impressive number of scientific giants, acquired a doctorate and a love of music and married Aliette Kagan, with whom he would spend the rest of his life. Taking a job with IBM, which encouraged basic research with no obvious application to its products, turned out to be his best move. He found that his interest in "roughness" led to geometric insights that opened doors in a number of fields. The narrative deliberately avoids mathematics and gives only suggestions of his actual work. That decision undoubtedly makes the book more accessible to general readers. The portraits of his contemporaries and their milieu are worth the read. Benoit B. Mandelbrot (20 November 1924 - 14 October 2010) was a Polish-born, French and American mathematician with broad interests in the practical sciences, especially regarding what he labeled as "the art of roughness" of physical phenomena and "the uncontrolled element in life." He referred to himself as a "fractalist". He is recognized for his contribution to the field of fractal geometry, which included coining the word "fractal'", as well as developing a theory of "roughness and self-similarity" in nature. In 1936, while he was a child, Mandelbrot's family migrated to France. After World War II ended, Mandelbrot studied mathematics, graduating from universities in Paris and the United States and receiving a master's degree in aeronautics from the California Institute of Technology. He spent most of his career in both the United States and France, having dual French and American citizenship. In 1958, he began a 35-year career at IBM, where he became an IBM Fellow, and periodically took leaves of absence to teach at Harvard University. At Harvard, following the publication of his study of U.S. commodity markets in relation to cotton futures, he taught economics and applied sciences. Because of his access to IBM's computers, Mandelbrot was one of the first to use computer graphics to create and display fractal geometric images, leading to his discovering the Mandelbrot set in 1979. He showed how visual complexity can be created from simple rules. He said that things typically considered to be "rough", a "mess" or "chaotic", like clouds or shorelines, actually had a "degree of order." His math and geometry-centered research career included contributions to such fields as statistical physics, meteorology, hydrology, geomorphology, anatomy, taxonomy, neurology, linguistics, information technology, computer graphics, economics, geology, medicine, physical cosmology, engineering, chaos theory, econophysics, metallurgy and the social sciences. Toward the end of his career, he was Sterling Professor of Mathematical Sciences at Yale University, where he was the oldest professor in Yale's history to receive tenure. Mandelbrot also held positions at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, Université Lille Nord de France, Institute for Advanced Study and Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique. During his career, he received over 15 honorary doctorates and served on many science journals, along with winning numerous awards. His autobiography, The Fractalist: Memoir of a Scientific Maverick, was published in 2012. First Edition [Stated], First Pr. Bookseller Inventory # 73430

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Bibliographic Details

Title: The Fractalist; Memoir of a Scientific ...

Publisher: Pantheon, New York

Publication Date: 2012

Binding: Hardcover

Book Condition: Very good

Dust Jacket Condition: Very good

Edition: 1st Edition

About this title


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.


Guest Reviewer: Nassim Nicholas Taleb

Nassim Nicholas Taleb, author of The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable and Antifragile: Things That Gain from Disorder, has devoted his life to problems of uncertainty, probability, and knowledge. He spent nearly two decades as a businessman and quantitative trader before becoming a full-time philosophical essayist and academic researcher in 2006. Although he spends most of his time in the intense seclusion of his study, or as a flâneur meditating in cafés, he is currently Distinguished Professor of Risk Engineering at New York University’s Polytechnic Institute. His main subject matter is "decision making under opacity", that is, a map and a protocol on how we should live in a world we don't understand. Taleb's books have been published in thirty-three languages.

"I have never done anything like others", Mandelbrot once said. And indeed these memoirs show it. He really managed to do everything on his own terms. Everything. It was not easy for him, but he end up doing it as he wanted it.

Consider his huge insight about the world around us. "Clouds are not spheres, mountains are not cones, coastlines are not circles, and bark is not smooth, nor does lightning travel in a straight line", wrote Benoit Mandelbrot, contradicting more than 2000 years of misconceptions. Triangles, squares, and circles seem to exist in our textbooks more than reality—and we didn't notice it. Thus was born fractal geometry, a general theory of "roughness". Mandelbrot uncovered simple rules used by nature (and men) that, thanks to repetition, by smaller parts that resemble the whole, generate these seemingly complex and chaotic patterns.

Self-taught and fiercely independent, he thought in images and passed the entrance exam of the top school of mathematics without solving equations; he was both precocious and a late bloomer producing the famous "Mandelbrot set" when he was in his fifties and got tenure at Yale when he was 75. Older mathematicians have resisted his geometric and intuitive method—but the top prize in mathematics was recently given for solving one of his sub-conjectures.

Mandelbrot, while a bit of a loner, had perhaps more cumulative influence than any other single scientist in history, with the only close second Isaac Newton. His contributions affected physics, engineering, arts, medicine (our vessels, lungs, and brains are fractal), biology, etc. But he was unheeded by the very field he started in, economics, where he proved in the 1960s that financial theories vastly underestimate market risk and need total revamping—in spite of the current crisis.

I met him when he was in his late seventies, as he was writing these memoirs long hand. He was the only teacher I ever had, the only person for whom I have had intellectual respect. But there was something else that made him magnetic: he was a raconteur with a profound sense of historical context ... Reading these memoirs put me back in the unusual atmosphere he created around him. The reader is made to feel he are at the center of twentieth century science as it was produced with fields invented almost from scratch: Max Delbrück with molecular biology, Paul Lévy with the mathematics of probability, Robert Oppenheimer with nuclear physics, even Jean Piaget the psychologist for whom Mandelbrot worked as a scientific assistant. And many more.

Finally, the reader will be presented with something that no longer exists in intellectual life: force of character and independence. Enjoy the book.

"About this title" may belong to another edition of this title.

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