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A Mathematician’s Miscellany is an autobiography and collection of anecdotes by John Edensor Littlewood. It is now out of print but Littlewood’s Miscellany is its. “Littlewood’s Miscellany, which includes most of the earlier work as well as much of the material Professor Littlewood collected after the publication of A. Review: J. E. Littlewood, A mathematician’s Miscellany. Bull. Amer. Math. Soc. 61 (), no. 4,

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Quotations by J E Littlewood

Want to Read saving…. Want to Read Currently Reading Read. Refresh and try again. Open Preview See a Problem? Thanks for telling us about the problem. Return to Book Page. Academic life in Cambridge especially in Trinity College is viewed through the eyes of one of its greatest figures. Littlewood’s earlier work is presented along with a wealth litylewood new material. Paperbackpages. To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

To ask other readers questions about Littlewood’s Miscellanyplease sign up. Be the first to ask a question about Littlewood’s Miscellany. Lists with This Book. Jun 12, Charles Daney rated it liked it Shelves: Littlewood’s Miscellany is a good choice to read along with G.

Hardy’s A Mathematician’s Apology which I reviewed here. That’s not because it says anything more than Hardy’s book about the celebrated collaboration. But it does give a reasonable snapshot of the world of mathematics in the period, roughly, from to But first, let’s get a few negative observations out of the way.

Littlewood begins almost immediately with this: In terms of the interest of people only casually curious about the nature of mathematics, the Miscellany does not compare favorably with Hardy’s Apology.

The latter is definitely a “popular” work, in terms of both subject matter and technical level, while littlewooe Miscellany is not. Except for some catty gossip about academic life in England in the early decades of the 20th century, and the people e.

Bertrand Russell associated with it, there’s not much in the book to interest the general reader. In all micsellany, I think that only people with a strong interest in mathematics will find much in the Miscellany to hold their attention. And even that will be somewhat limited since contemporary mathematics is quite different from that of Littlewood’s heyday.

Another negative is that Littlewood is very candid in stating that a miscellany “is a collection without a natural ordering relation. Some chapters seem to be merely disparate comments that Littlewood may have jotted down on a scrap of paper or a diary page at random times.

Other chapters deal with nitty-gritty details of mathematical topics that are probably only of minor interest to contemporary math lovers – such as ballistics guns and stuffnotations for extremely micellany numbers, and an examination in excruciating detail of the astronomical littlewod that led to the discovery of Neptune.


Notably lacking is any insight into the nature of Littlewood’s collaboration with Hardy. Littlewood has no more to say about that than the latter did. For littleqood or for worse, contemporary mathematics is vastly different from the mathematics of Littlewood and his era. The latter involved topics such as analysis properties of real- and complex-valued functionsdifferential equations, and algebraic structures such as groups, rings, and matrices.

Littlewood’s Miscellany by Béla Bollobás

Active areas of modern mathematics are things littlewodo “category theory”, abstract algebraic geometry, and higher-dimensional geometric objects. Littlewood’s and Hardy’s expertise was primarily in the mathematical analysis of their day, and with its application to physics and number theory. Littlewood can hardly be faulted for writing about what he knew best. But readers must understand that his topics are not as prominent in contemporary mathematics as they once were.

All that said, the Miscellany is still very much worth reading for the seriously mathematically curious. First of all, that’s because of the historical insight it gives to a certain period in the long evolution of mathematics.

Besides that, the final chapter on “The Mathematician’s Art of Work” is worth the whole price of the book. In just 12 pages it provides numerous gems of insight littledood how working mathematicians actually go about littlewodo what they do.

When one is in the “preparation” stage of dealing with a difficult problem, one should experiment diligently with a variety of approaches. Then, after the “incubation” stage, when one has finally obtained a key insight, concentrated effort is generally required to verify the insight.

Regarding these periods of conscious effort, Littlewood has this to say: Either work all out or rest completely. It is too easy, when rather tired, to fritter a whole day away with the intention of working but never getting properly down to it. This is pure waste, nothing is done, ltitlewood you have had no rest or relaxation. I said ‘Work all out’: That sounds like excellent advice to me. It applies not only to doing mathematics, but many other creative activities, such as littlewoov writing and computer programming.

But it all depends on whether you have a clear idea of what you need to do, or whether instead you need to spend more time “incubating” the next step of the work.

Trying to be productive when you don’t really know what needs to be done – the next lemma to prove miscellanu the next plot twist to imagine – is likely to be wasted time. Aug 16, Ari rated it liked it. An odd book but one worth perusing. It’s a collection of notes, reminiscences, interesting problems and essays by John Littlewood, one of the great mathematicians of the first half of the 20th century.


Littlewood is famous especially for his collaboration with Hardy. At one point a foreign observer commented that England had three great mathematicians: Hardy, Littlewood, and Hardy-Littlewood. Littlewood spent most of his litltewood at Cambridge and the book practically smells of musty chambers in med An odd book but one worth perusing. Littlewood spent most of his career at Cambridge and the book practically smells of musty chambers in medieval buildings, feasts at high table, and late-night brandy.

It’s worth reading just for the evocation of Cambridge littlewoos the early 20th century.

Littlewood’s Miscellany

There is a long collection of cattty remarks: David Sheppard, later Bishop of Liverpool, was a serious cricketer when young. At one point his teammates saw him on his knees praying: And they had some rather peculiar rules.

But when I said Lemma 17, it stayed Lemma Nov 04, Niloy Mitra rated it liked it. Not a quick read; at times a bit too technical for mw. Neeraj Singh rated it really liked it Jan 06, Miramarco rated it really liked it Sep 14, Cole rated it liked it Oct 16, Dennis rated it it was amazing Sep 20, Patrick rated it really liked it Aug 19, Karen rated it it was amazing Apr 18, Phaamancer rated it really liked it Feb 02, Ivan rated it it was ok Mar 14, Naes rated it did not like it Sep 16, Manjil rated it really liked it Aug 12, Alberto Trombetta rated it it was amazing Feb 14, James Klagge rated it it was ok Nov 12, Newtoni rated it it was amazing Nov 02, Lee Zhao rated it really liked it Jun 07, Ankur rated it liked it Feb 26, V rated it it was ok Aug 17, Mihalis rated it it was amazing Jul 30, Matthew Conroy rated it it was amazing Jan 09, Yanzhang rated it really liked it Dec 15, Catamorandi marked it as to-read Jan 10, Patrick Whittle added it Feb 25, Jerzy marked it as to-read Nov 26, Joseph Sales marked it as to-read Dec 03, Michael added it May 25, Joseph added it Jun 02, Charles marked it as to-read Nov 17, Felicity Kendrick marked it as to-read Jan 06, Eudoxia marked it as to-read Aug 19, Adam added it Aug 21, Codered Summer added it Dec 11,