The Man Who Knew Infinity

Channel 4 Equinox: Srinivasa Ramanujan

I first read Robert Kanigel’s The Man Who Knew Infinity, a biography of Srinivasa Ramanujan, one Halloween on an evening shuttle bus that ploughed through rush-hour traffic between York University, where I did my undergrad, and Glendon College, where I worked as a research assistant and copy-editor. The cultural and intellectual struggles of a man of great promise, who spent the majority of his life as an unknown in a backwater and who died young on the cusp of achievement and fame resonated with the romantic in me. I devoured that book and Ramanujan’s life story, like medicine for my then disappointments, on that bus and then at a bus stop on Bayview along with zombies and vampires, and later still that night as I had passed the 300 page mark in my bed. It was then that I keenly felt that the truth will out, that promises such as Ramanujan’s will go on to be fulfilled, despite the infinitesimal odds of success, as the cosmos willed it. The truth is true because it is true. 1 + 1 = 2.

For those unable to summon the energies to read the +400 pages of Kanigel’s biography, the recent biopic of the same name, with Dev Patel and Jeremy Irons, is a pretty good primer.