Friday, July 20, 2012
A Certain Ambiguity: A Mathematical Novel by Gaurav Suri and Hartosh Singh Bal
This masterful tale revolves around Ravi Kapoor, a Stanford University student who by chance enrols in a course on infinity. Despite leaning towards a career in investment banking, Ravi befriends Nico, a jazz-loving math professor who encourages him to study mathematics and eschew the world of finance.
During the ensuing semester, Ravi discovers that his late grandfather Vijay Sahni, who was a mathematician, had been arrested in a small New Jersey town in 1919 for blasphemy. Surprised by this discovery, he begins to investigate the case which, to the surprise of him and his friends, shares common themes with Nico’s lecture on the infinite.
This book accomplishes so many things it is difficult to know where to start. First, the book explains complex math in a language that is accessible to everyone. Whether it’s the discussion on infinite levels of infinity, or the section dealing with non-Euclidean geometry, this book manages to describe high-level mathematics in an everyday tongue.
Second, this book touches on a myriad of powerful themes, such as the need by some people to find absolute truth in life; the role of faith in both science and religion; the power of friendship; the boundaries of human knowledge; and even hints of love. Page after page is filled with so many captivating ideas and thought provoking vignettes that it is sometimes difficult to keep up.
Finally, the philosophical and mathematical discussions are wrapped up in a wonderful story that is pure literature. The writing is exquisite, the pace of the story spot on and the characters are so alive they appear to be right in front of you. At times, the story was so engrossing I felt that I was beside Ravi and Nico as they discussed infinity, the meaning of life, the role of faith and the case of Ravi’s grandfather.
If I could give this book more than 5 stars I would. Easily the best book I have come across in years.
5 out of 5 stars