Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Book Review: Mandelbrot the Magnificent

Title: Mandelbrot the Magnificent
Author: Liz Ziemska
Genre: Historical Fiction, Magic, Short Story
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

This is a short story There are some definite pros and cons in Liz Ziemska's short story about Mandelbrot, a real-life mathematician. 

I really love how short and succulent this story is. It's primary focus is not necessarily on Mandelbrot learning difficult math concepts; as it is on his family's journey to avoid persecution as Jews during WWII. 
The journey from Poland to France, while condensed into a few sentences, is intriguing if only because Mandelbrot's family was just ahead of the Nazi's the majority of the time. I enjoyed seeing the different, if difficult, options in front of them as the family was split up in order to try and keep everyone safe.
I was not familiar with the Sefirot and found the explanation in Mandelbrot the Magnificient sent me to Google to learn more. In historical pieces there are few things I love more than a drive to find out the 'truer than true' version of something. And yet I have to wonder where the Serifot fits into true mathematics (if at all) today. 

Mathematics is a truly beautiful language all it's own. For those of us, like myself, that are intrigued by complex physics, chemistry and mathematics but unable to truly comprehend them it's always great to read a book that breaks concepts down or tries to teach you basic theories at a non-academic level. 
In Mandelbrot the Magnificent there are two downfalls with this approach: 
1) The imagery and concepts of complex mathematics are made into too much magic. As though you just be a  magician to understand. While perhaps this isn't a bad comparison it made me wonder what was true in the story and what wasn't. How did Mandelbrot protect people? Obviously wasn't true magic as this is a true story and so something about his understanding of mathematics benefited his family when the Nazi's came knocking. But because the descriptions and explanation are so founded in some sort of magic I am at a loss to explain any part of the theories or ideas that were used. 
2) There are lots of pretty mathematics graphics in this book but few actual descriptions of the complex problems. Now this might be because author Ziemska didn't want to focus too much on the math aspect and instead wanted us to feel math as a part of our organic existence. While I understand and get that it would have been nice to have maybe learned something new and a bit more complex instead of just naming theories I know of but still can't even begin to explain. 

Given the small amount of time invested into reading Mandelbrot the Magnificent it's clear to me it's worth a read if you have any interest. 
I could have skipped it and been content with my life knowing what I know now about this story. What I really want is someone to read an interesting, compelling and factually accurate story of Mandelbrot and his true contributions to the scientific community. 
However, if Ziemska has given us the only insight currently available at a non-math reading level into Mandelbrot's tumultuous childhood and fractal theories than, without a doubt, Mandlebrot the Magnificent will at least whet any appetites that may lead you into the truly monstrous world of science. 

Please note: I received an eARC of this book from the publisher via Net Galley. This is an honest and unbiased review.

1 comment:

Leonore Winterer said...

I enjoy books/stories about Mathematics as well, but I think they have to decide if they want to be for mathematicians or the first case, you can throw around fancy formulas, but don't explain it with 'magic'. In the latter, explain what you do, and don't just through around fancy names. Otherwise, you end up with a story without an audience, I think.
Have you read The Housekeeper and the Professor by Yoko Ogawa? I think you might like it!