Love and Math: The Heart of Hidden Reality by Edward Frenkel

Here is another book about mathematics. In this book, the author talks about his absolute love of the beauty of mathematics, and how it explains physical properties, such as features of subatomic particles and in quantum physics. For example, mathematicians postulated the existence of some particles before they were even found based on symmetry in the underlying mathematics.

I was particularly interested in this book, since the author attended college right around the same time I was going to college (he is one year younger), and he experienced the changing world at the same stage that my wife and I did. Even though he is one year younger, he graduated from his high school one year earlier than me at age 16.

In the book, he explains how he was singled out in the mathematics test to attend Moscow State University (or MGU) as a Jewish person. When he went in for his math test, the testers grilled him, and they found a reason to reject his application even though he is brilliant. Moscow State University does not accept people who are even just one quarter Jewish. He ended up going to the Moscow Institute of Oil and Gas (also called Kerosinka and officially called the Gubkin Russian State University of Oil and Gas) which has a pretty good applied mathematics program. They accept Jewish people. This allowed him to attend some lectures (first by jumping a fence, then getting an ID card) at Moscow State University, even though he wasn’t a student there. (See Chapters 3 and 4.)

In 1989, he received a Harvard Prize Fellowship to attend Harvard for a Semester to learn from some of the best mathematicians in the world. Most of the other recipients had graduate degrees and/or PhDs, while he just had an undergraduate degree from Kerosinka. He worked hard to prove that he belonged there with the fellowship.

He ended up staying in Boston for longer than a semester. He was able to get his PhD in just a year between 1990 and 1991. Below is his dissertation.

Frenkel, E. V. (1991). Affine Kac-Moody algebras at the critical level and quantum Drinfeld-Sokolov reduction.

After he gets his PhD, he works on the Langlands Program. This attempts to be a grand unified theory of mathematics. As noted at Wikipedia — “The Langlands program consists of some very complicated theoretical abstractions, which can be difficult even for specialist mathematicians to grasp.” Frenkel tries to explain some of the math in the program, and I caught some of it, but not very deeply. At the end of the book, he talks about the movie that he worked on, The Rites of Love and Math. The book was published in 2013, while the film came out in 2010, so the film preceded the book.