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The Weil Conjectures: On Math and the Pursuit of the Unknown

Category: Book
By (author): Olsson, Karen
Subject:  BIOGRAPHY & AUTOBIOGRAPHY / Personal Memoirs
  BIOGRAPHY & AUTOBIOGRAPHY / Science & Technology
  MATHEMATICS / History & Philosophy
Audience: general/trade
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Published: July 2019
Format: Book-hardcover
Pages: 224
Size: 8.59in x 5.65in x 0.82in
Our Price:
$ 34.99
In stock

Additional Notes

From The Publisher*

One of Lit Hub's 10 Books You Should Read This July

"The Weil Conjectures is a charming meditation on geometry, sacrifice, and adolescent self-discovery, delivered in passionate, impressionistic bursts." -Jordan Ellenberg, New York Times-bestselling author of How Not to Be Wrong

An eloquent blend of memoir and biography exploring the Weil siblings, math, and creative inspiration

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.

Review Quote*

"Simultaneously, Olsson plumbs the depths of her own confrontation with math at Harvard and later, with writing, which provides introspection and compassion to the Weils's story where forces of literature and logic act upon each other to create a nuanced exploration of abstraction versus a lived life." --Kerri Arsenault, Lit Hub (Ten Books You Should Read This July)

"A remarkable tour de force . . . an idiosyncratic, even impressionistic portrait of brother and sister, demonstrating along the way an appreciation for top-flight mathematics . . . [Olsson] illustrates the marvel and god-like wonder of mathematics, fructified by sky-high abstraction and the determination of its exponents to suffer endless battles with confusion and ideas that refuse to work." --Mark Ronan, Standpoint (London)

"[An] appealing combination of memoir and biography . . . [a] unique meditation . . . [an] effective dual biography." --Kirkus

"An unexpected and wholly original delight. By focusing on what has to be the most extraordinarily brilliant brother-sister pair of the last century, Karen Olsson takes us to a realm where sublime mathematical abstraction meets mystical love. The author's relaxed personal tone and novelistic eye for the telling detail make the book effortlessly readable." -Jim Holt, author of When Einstein Walked with Gödel and Why Does the World Exist?

"Deftly moving to and fro between André and Simone Weil's lives and her own search for mathematical clarity, Karen Olsson informs, persuades, inspires, and delights this reader." -Lily Tuck, author of The Double Life of Liliane

"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

"Beautiful and enigmatic, Karen Olsson's book draws us to the brink of spiritual and mathematical genius, to the edge of a field 'between knowing and not knowing,' to the verge of an audacious conjecture. The Weil Conjectures is a story of brilliant siblings--one philosopher, one mathematician--who spent their lives at the service of the unattainable. In haunting prose, Olsson asks us to remember, in the words of Simone Weil, that "the eternal part of the soul feeds on hunger.' A true achievement." -John Kaag, author of Hiking with Nietzsche

"Karen Olsson has given us a moving, lyrical meditation on André and Simone Weil and the ways genius can take such radically different forms, even within the same family. Few writers could convey with such brilliance and compassion the tensions between literature and mathematics, isolation and communion, logic and intuition, the annihilation of the self and a godly love for others." -Eileen Pollack, author of The Only Woman in the Room: Why Science Is Still a Boys' Club

Biographical NoteKaren Olsson is the author of the novels Waterloo and All the Houses. She has written for The New York Times Magazine, Slate, Bookforum, and Texas Monthly, among other publications, and she is also a former editor of the Texas Observer. She graduated from Harvard University with a degree in mathematics and lives in Austin, Texas, with her family.