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The Weil Conjectures

On Maths and the Pursuit of the Unknown

Karen Olsson



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29 September 2020

'Beguiling ... I was riveted. Olsson is evocative on curiosity as an appetite of the mind, on the pleasure of glutting oneself on knowledge' - New York Times

'A wonderful book ... Reading it is akin to kicking a can along the road of higher learning' - Patti Smith

'A remarkable tour de force' - Standpoint

Simone Weil: philosopher, political activist, mystic - and sister to Andre, one of the most influential mathematicians of the twentieth century. These two extraordinary siblings formed an obsession for Karen Olsson, who studied mathematics at Harvard, only to turn to writing as a vocation.

When Olsson got hold of the 1940 letters between the siblings, she found they shared a curiosity about the inception of creative thought - that flash of insight - that Olsson experienced as both a mathematics student, and later, a novelist.

Following this thread of connections, The Weil Conjectures explores the lives of Simone and Andre, the lore and allure of mathematics, and its significance in Olsson's own life.
Imprint:   Bloomsbury
Country of Publication:   United Kingdom
Dimensions:   Height: 198mm,  Width: 129mm, 
Weight:   182g
ISBN:   9781526607546
ISBN 10:   1526607549
Pages:   224
Publication Date:  
Audience:   General/trade ,  College/higher education ,  Professional and scholarly ,  ELT Advanced ,  Primary
Format:   Paperback
Publisher's Status:   Active

Karen Olsson is the author of the novels Waterloo and All the Houses. She has written about politics, science and popular culture for magazines including the New York Times Magazine and Texas Monthly, where she is a contributing editor, and has had work anthologized in Best American Science Writing and Best of the Best American Science Writing, among other places. She lives in Austin, Texas, with her family. @olssonic

Reviews for The Weil Conjectures: On Maths and the Pursuit of the Unknown

Beguiling ... The book unfurls effortlessly, loose and legato. There are no real revelations - the subjects are well known and long dead. There are no stakes; there is no suspense. I was riveted. Olsson is evocative on curiosity as an appetite of the mind, on the pleasure of glutting oneself on knowledge -- Parul Sehgal * New York Times * A wonderful book ... Reading it is akin to kicking a can along the road of higher learning * Patti Smith * A remarkable tour de force * Standpoint * A nuanced exploration of abstraction versus a lived life * Lit Hub * The Weil Conjectures is an alluring meditation on geometry, sacrifice and adolescent self-discovery, delivered in passionate, impressionistic bursts * Jordan Ellenberg, Sunday Times bestselling author of How Not to Be Wrong: The Hidden Maths of Everyday Life * I loved The Weil Conjectures for Karen Olsson's humanising, playful approach to these very serious people, but also for her rigour, her thoughtfulness about writing and creativity, and her refreshing blend of two disciplines I tend to think of, erroneously, as irrevocably at odds: math and literature. The Weil Conjectures has that undefinable x common to all the best books. I can't wait to read it again * Lauren Elkin, author of Flaneuse * Beautiful and enigmatic, Karen Olsson's book draws us to the brink of spiritual and mathematical genius, to the edge of a field between knowing and not knowing , to the verge of an audacious conjecture. The Weil Conjectures is a story of brilliant siblings - one philosopher, one mathematician - who spent their lives at the service of the unattainable. In haunting prose, Olsson asks us to remember, in the words of Simone Weil, that the eternal part of the soul feeds on hunger . A true achievement * John Kaag, author of Hiking with Nietzsche * Few writers could convey with such brilliance and compassion the tensions between literature and mathematics, isolation and communion, logic and intuition, the annihilation of the self and a godly love for others * Eileen Pollack, author of The Only Woman in the Room * An unexpected and wholly original delight. By focusing on what has to be the most extraordinarily brilliant brother-sister pair of the last century, Karen Olsson takes us to a realm where sublime mathematical abstraction meets mystical love. The author's relaxed personal tone and novelistic eye for the telling detail make the book effortlessly readable * Jim Holt, author of When Einstein Walked with Goedel and Why Does the World Exist? * Deftly moving to and fro between Andre and Simone Weil's lives and her own search for mathematical clarity, Karen Olsson informs, persuades, inspires and delights this reader * Lily Tuck, author of The Double Life of Liliane *

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