Harvard Book Store, the Harvard University Division of Science, and the Cabot Science Library welcome acclaimed author KAREN OLSSON for a discussion of her latest book, The Weil Conjectures: On Math and the Pursuit of the Unknown.
Karen Olsson’s stirring and unusual third book, The Weil Conjectures, tells the story of the brilliant Weil siblings―Simone, a philosopher, mystic, and social activist, and André, an influential mathematician―while also recalling the years Olsson spent studying math. As she delves into the lives of these two singular French thinkers, she grapples with their intellectual obsessions and rekindles one of her own. For Olsson, as a math major in college and a writer now, it’s the odd detours that lead to discovery, to moments of insight. Thus The Weil Conjectures―an elegant blend of biography and memoir and a meditation on the creative life.
Personal, revealing, and approachable, The Weil Conjectures eloquently explores math as it relates to intellectual history, and shows how sometimes the most inexplicable pursuits turn out to be the most rewarding.
“Beguiling . . . A corrective, describing mathematics―its focus, abstraction, odd hunches, blazing epiphanies―as a powerful intoxicant, a door to euphoria . . . The book unfurls effortlessly . . . I was riveted. Olsson is evocative on curiosity as an appetite of the mind, on the pleasure of glutting oneself on knowledge.” —Parul Sehgal, The New York Times
“By interweaving the stories of Simone, her brother André Weil (a renowned mathematician), and Olsson’s own mathematical studies, Olsson makes a compelling case for a discipline that can often seem coldly unresponsive to human concerns. Olsson illuminates the beauty and humanity at the heart of mathematical endeavors, with the commitment and charisma necessary to keep laymen engaged. ―Noor Qasim, The Paris Review (Staff Pick)
“I always thought my mind wasn’t rational enough to be good at math, but I had a mystical appreciation for it that I’d forgotten about until I read this book, a double portrait of the Weil siblings, the mathematician and the mystic. I loved it for Karen Olsson’s humanizing, playful approach to these very serious people, but also for her rigor, her thoughtfulness about writing and creativity, and her refreshing blend of two disciplines I tend to think of, erroneously, as irrevocably at odds: math and literature. The Weil Conjectures has that undefinable x common to all the best books. I can’t wait to read it again.” ―Lauren Elkin, author of Flâneuse
Certain books were “banned in Boston” at least as far back as 1651, when one William Pynchon wrote a book criticizing Puritanism.