The Corner

Re: Bourgeois Genius

From a faithful reader in Michigan: “Mr. D.—-Riemann.”

Well, yes; or practically any other mathematician. The great challenge of

writing a pop-math book is to try to dig out some interesting anecdotes from

the lives of great mathematicians, who for the most part are stultifyingly


The argument — I mean, Chesterton’s argument, and my argument — gets

interesting only in literature and the arts, where the myth of the inspired,

antisocial bohemian genius has taken firm root in the public mind. So much

so that even a firmly bourgeois genius like Yeats — who seems not to have

lost his virginity until age 30, and whose first comment on being told he

had won the Nobel Prize was “How much is it?” — feel the need to affect

floppy cravats and strike brooding poses.


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