The Fractalist; Memoir of a Scientific Maverick
AbeBooks Seller Since August 14, 1998Quantity Available: 1
AbeBooks Seller Since August 14, 1998Quantity Available: 1
About this Item
Title: The Fractalist; Memoir of a Scientific ...
Publisher: Pantheon, New York
Publication Date: 2012
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.
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