G.H. Hardy (1940)

A short dispatch from another world. It’s hard to recognise the academia portrayed by Hardy, and I’m not sure that’s a bad thing. One has to admire its purity, though: a principled neglect of everything outside a particular field of study, and the deeply interwoven social life that goes with it. It sounds at once attractive and claustrophobic, inspiring and shallow.

Hardy is a perfect narrator and exemplar, being so diffident about his own accomplishments as to characterise them as having worked with one excellent mathematician (Littlewood) and discovered another (Ramanujan). He was a lot more than that within the small world of number theory in which he worked, including being a foundational contributor to computational complexity theory (although not in the exact definition currently used).

Reading this book sometimes feels like an intellectual making a trip to the world of Brideshead Revisited, and that may be the right way to think of academia in the inter-war years: tied-up in upper-class privilege, class-consciousness, and repression.

3/5. Finished Friday 24 May, 2024.

(Originally published on Goodreads.)