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I was wondering if any of you know of any books, articles, interviews, youtube videos, ... (etc) where a mathematician talks about his or her identity as a person and as a mathematician? Thank you for any sources!

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closed as too broad by Adam Hughes, dustin, Johanna, 2mkgz, MagicMan Mar 9 at 1:43

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Have you looked at Marge Murray's book Women Becoming Mathematicians, MIT Press? –  Trurl Jul 14 '13 at 3:12
There's a book, Mathematical People, and a sequel, More Mathematical People. –  Gerry Myerson Jul 14 '13 at 3:15
Ulam, Stanislaw (1983). Adventures of a Mathematician –  MJD Jul 14 '13 at 4:51
At first I was expecting a pun with regards to the meaning of "identity" in the context of group theory. –  AJMansfield Jul 14 '13 at 19:14
I don't really understand what you mean by someone talking about their "identity". Most of the examples below are autobiographies, where the authors talk about their lives and experiences. Is that what you are looking for, or something more metaphysical? –  Nate Eldredge Jul 15 '13 at 2:09

9 Answers 9

up vote 14 down vote accepted

A mathematician's apology. G.H.Hardy

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The Wikipedia article gives an overview, and the Google Books reviews may also be helpful. –  hardmath Jul 14 '13 at 3:16
You can get the book online I suppose. –  Torsten Hĕrculĕ Cärlemän Jul 14 '13 at 3:18
You can buy the e-book for Amazon's Kindle, but the Wikipedia article gives a link to a version that is public domain in Canada. –  hardmath Jul 14 '13 at 3:27
While that's a good book, he is pretty unrepresentative of what mathematicians are like. Not necessarily a reason not to read it, of course. –  Zarrax Jul 14 '13 at 21:07

Walter Rudin wrote a wonderful autobiography that does a nice job of balancing between talking about his personal life and his mathematical pursuits. Best of all, it reads like Rudin :)

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Here are some for consideration.

I think it is unusual to write a biography about yourself. Let me qualify this. If you consider the ratio of mathematicians to ones that wrote about themselves, I think the ratio is very low. I have no statistics to prove that.

If you look at 'a' list of the '100' top mathematicians, which is highly debatable, how many do you suppose self published? Next question, how many have had biographies written about them? If you look at this list of mathematician biographaphical info, you get an idea of how many there are to choose from. The same question can be asked of the greatest physicists.

There are many biographies about mathematicians written by others like Nash, Erdos, ...

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Andre Weil wrote an autobiography. –  Gerry Myerson Jul 14 '13 at 3:14
Halmos wrote an "automathography." Wiener wrote an autobiography "I am a Mathematician." –  Trurl Jul 14 '13 at 3:19
While not a full-fledged autobiography, Jean Dieudonne's Mathematics -- The Music of Reason devotes the first chapter to taking readers "on a little trip to the unknown country of mathematicians" before trying to describe the broad sweep of modern mathematical history. –  hardmath Jul 14 '13 at 3:34
Halmos and Wiener, mentioned by @Trurl, fit the bill of "a mathematician talk[ing] about his or her identity as a person and as a mathematician" (and both make for a truly fascinating read). Laurent Schwartz, Un mathématicien aux prises avec le siècle, Paris, O. Jacob, 1997, is another one. –  Did Jul 14 '13 at 8:14
If you consider the ratio of people to ones that wrote about themselves, is it lower or higher than that for mathematicians? –  ShreevatsaR Jul 14 '13 at 14:50

It might not fit the bill perfectly, but "Surely you're joking, Mr. Feynman," is about both Feynman's exploits as a physicist and as a general goof-ball. I wouldn't say it's a deep book, compared to say Hardy's "Apology," but it's a good read and offers a bit of insight into his way of thinking about problems.

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I think it actually is a deep book -- because of the way it teaches, by example, how to think like a scientist. Feynman's way of thinking is contagious. –  littleO Jul 14 '13 at 8:28

A selection :

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There is also Steven Strogatz "The Calculus of Friendship" although not very detailed and extensive but a very nice short easy to read mixture of his personal life and some math.

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The map of my life, Goro Shimura. And of course the stuff by Grothendieck

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Consider looking for non-book sources. Mathematicians have also written essays, given interviews, and in general done things that give them a glimpse into the non-mathematical sides of their thinking. For example, Doron Zeilberger has interesting opinions on his website (be aware that his writing is often tongue-in-cheek). C. P. Snow's essay The Two Cultures is essential reading. And there are others.

Often you'll find great articles in the Notices of the AMS or such publications about specific mathematicians. Sometimes they are tributes to the recently deceased, and many mathematicians who knew them personally weigh in and share stories. Obituary tributes can also be found on personal blogs here and there.

Of course, a mathematician need not be deceased to have a good article written about them. I liked a recent one in the Notices about John H. Conway of free will theorem fame. The article included an interview and was a pleasure to read. If you're looking for interviews, the Notices are probably a good place to start.

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"Théorème vivant" by Cédric Villani (2012) if you read french, or if traduced yet. May be what you are looking for, by a mathematician at mid-career.

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