Short works

Books : reviews

David Ruelle.
Chaotic Evolution and Strange Attractors.
CUP. 1989

This book, based on lectures given at the Accademia dei Lincei, is an accessible and leisurely account of systems that display a chaotic time evolution. This behaviour, though deterministic, has features more characteristic of stochastic systems.

The analysis here is based on a statistical technique known as time series analysis and so avoids complex mathematics, yet provides a good understanding of the fundamentals.

Professor Ruelle is one of the world’s authorities on chaos and dynamical systems and his account here will be welcomed by scientists in physics, engineering, biology, chemistry and economics who encounter nonlinear systems in their research.

David Ruelle.
Chance and Chaos.
Penguin. 1991

From water flows and weather forecasts to the random gene-shuffle that brought us all into the world, chance is at the heart of most natural processes. How do scientists look at chance, or randomness, and chaos in physical systems?

In this witty, authoritative and entertaining ‘walk among the scientific results of the twentieth century’, David Ruelle explores game theory, probability, classical chaos, quantum uncertainty and the disconcerting implications of Gödel’s theorem among other topics. Since many systems are highly sensitive to initial conditions, the consequences of tiny changes in the variables can be enormous. Ruelle applies this crucial insight to the understanding of turbulence, ‘strange attractors’, black holes, entropy, information and intelligence. Anyone joining him on this skilfully conducted tour will gain a firm grasp of fundamental themes in today’s mathematics and science.

David Ruelle.
The Mathematician's Brain.
Princeton University Press. 2007

The Mathematician’s Brain poses a provocative question about the world’s most brilliant yet eccentric mathematical minds: were they brilliant because of their eccentricities or in spite of them? In this thought-provoking and entertaining book, David Ruelle, the well-known mathematical physicist who helped create chaos theory, gives us a rare insider’s account of the celebrated mathematicians he has known—their quirks, oddities, personal tragedies, bad behavior, descents into madness, tragic ends, and the sublime, inexpressible beauty of their most breathtaking mathematical discoveries.

Consider the case of British mathematician Alan Turing. Credited with cracking the German Enigma code during World War II and conceiving of the modern computer, he was convicted of “gross indecency” for a homosexual affair and died in 1954 after eating a cyanide-laced apple—his death was ruled a suicide, though rumors of assassination still linger. Ruelle holds nothing back in his revealing and deeply personal reflections on Turing and other fellow mathematicians, including Alexander Grothendieck, René Thom, Bernhard Riemann, and Felix Klein. But this book is more than a mathematical tell-all. Each chapter examines an important mathematical idea and the visionary minds behind it. Ruelle meaningfully explores the philosophical issues raised by each, offering insights into the truly unique and creative ways mathematicians think and showing how the mathematical setting is most favorable for asking philosophical questions about meaning, beauty, and the nature of reality.

The Mathematician’s Brain takes you inside the world—and heads—of mathematicians. It’s a journey you won’t soon forget.