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. An "outlier" long before the word became popular, he was born in 1924 to Jewish parents and grew up in Warsaw, Poland, and then Paris, with "a high level of self-confidence" that grounded him throughout his peripatetic life during and after the chaos of WWII. After the war he pursued his scientific dreams at the Ecole Polytechnique in Paris, later at MIT, Princeton, and elsewhere. But the work that led to his great innovation began with his 1958 arrival at the intellectually expansive IBM facility in Yorktown, N.Y. Over the next couple of decades, Mandelbrot discovered patterns in a wide range of phenomena such as price variation and the distribution of galaxies and irregularly shaped objects like clouds that could not be mathematically described. He called his mathematical innovation "fractal geometry." The memoir captures the enthusiasm as well as the memories of a visionary who loved nothing better than studying complex multidisciplinary concepts. (Mandelbrot died in 2010, after completing this book.) Agent: John Brockman, Brockman Inc. (Oct.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
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October 30, 2012
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