“A mathematician, like a painter or poet, is a maker of patterns. If his patterns are more permanent than theirs, it is because they are made with ideas.”
These words, and the title of this blog, were written by the great British mathematician G H Hardy in his essay, A Mathematician’s Apology, published in 1940. Hardy was at the end of what he saw as his useful creative life as a mathematician and used this work as an opportunity to describe what he saw as the nature of mathematics. Its place in the world. Its beauty. Even how some branches are “trivial” or “ugly” compared to his sphere, of number theory. He also gives an insight to how mathematicians work. He wanted to inspire upcoming generations of mathematicians.
There is a wonderful irony when he writes “No one has yet discovered any warlike purpose to be served by the theory of numbers or relativity, and it seems unlikely that anyone will do so for many years.” He had no idea how his beloved number theory would be used to crack the German Enigma code and then go on to underpin all of public-key cryptography so important to the Internet today.
In short, if you have an interest in mathematics, you must read this book. If you are studying A Level maths and certainly if you want to study maths at university, it is essential reading. It’s short too. All over in less than 150 pages. You will not be disappointed.