East will fall, taking down the clerical stooges who justify their corrupt rule, and the jihadis and their allies will have a clear shot at Israel. Then the rule of the latterday Salafists will commence, with gover nment according to the relevant sections of the Koran. One set of oligarchs will be replaced by the supposedly more virtuous rule of scholars and other wise men who are equipped, bin Laden believes, with the moral authority to get r id of any ruler who becomes tyrannical. There does not seem to be much support for that project in Tunis o r Cai ro, a ny more t h a n t he re i s among Europeans for a future superstate.
Even if he is killed, bin Laden will be the inciter-inchief, a Che Guevara-poster Saladin, pinned to every
S p h e r e s a n d L o a t h i n g i n S t P e t e r s b u r g PERFECT RIGOUR: A GENIUS AND THE MATHEMATICAL BREAKTHROUGH OF
By Masha Gessen (Icon Books 242pp £14.99)
I OCCASIONALLY TALK to sixth-form students who are wondering whether or not to study maths at university. I point out that maths leads to an incredible ar ray of career opportunities, from finance jobs in the City to the animation industry in Hollywood, from secur ity posts at GCHQ to modelling the climate.
However, I am always quick to stress that studying maths is about more than just getting a pay cheque. It is also about exploring a landscape of abstract mystery and striving for solutions to baffling and beautiful problems. For the last couple of years, I have made this point by spending a couple of minutes telling students the inspiring story of Grigori Perelman. Masha Gessen’s Perfect Rigour recounts the same story in more detail, char ting the l i fe of Perelman from schoolboy prodigy to the maverick maths genius who provided the first great mathematical proof of the twenty-first century.
Perelman’s mother, Lubov, had a promising career in maths before abandoning it in order to raise Grigori. She nurtured a similar talent in her son, and when he was ten he joined one of the Soviet network of maths clubs, where students were intensely drilled with problems deliberately set to stretch even the most brilliant young minds.
In 1982, aged sixteen, he competed as a ‘mathlete’ in radical teenage Muslim’s wall. Indeed it is the capacity of al-Qaeda to survive which is most chilling. Scheuer estimates that two-thirds of its leadership and between five and seven thousand fighters have been slain since 9/11. Yet the West is no closer to killing the core group (for they will not be captured), who are presumably sheltered in Pakistan, and franchise operations are metastasising all the time: not just in Somalia or Yemen, but in Mali and Mauritania, all with links to the Western Muslim diaspora. While Michael Scheuer’s book contains much that is highly debatable, the reality of this threat fully justifies the priority Western governments and their intelligence agencies assign to it. To order this book for £11.99, see LR bookshop on page 12
the International Mathematical Olympiad (IMO). He won a gold medal, achieving a perfect score. Non-mathematicians are naturally tempted to view mathematicians as odd, as most of the world fails to grasp why anybody would care about apparently bizarre and abstract questions, such as: are some infinities larger than others? Even fellow mathematicians, however, would consider Perelman odd.
He sat quietly at the back of class, only speaking when somebody else made an error or when a solution had eluded everyone else. He had no need for friendship or play, no desire to show off or be praised, and no time to daydream
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LITERARY REVIEW March 2011