Discover more from A Book For Ants: Bite-Sized Reviews of Snack-Sized Books
MANDELBROT THE MAGNIFICENT by Liz Ziemska
Literature is strewn with edible mnemonics but I can’t think of any quite so comically prosaic as Benoit Mandelbrot’s cauliflower. In Liz Ziemska's excellent novella, the slightest nibble on a single floret sends the elderly mathematician spiralling through the fizzing fractals of memory to those few years of his youth where he discovered his prodigious abilities and used them to save his family from the Nazis.
It’s a lovely conceit, one that becomes more conceptually relevant as Ziemska guides the reader through Mandelbrot’s mathematical awakening. There are diagrams and formulae, but don’t be put off. Much like the physics in John Wray’s extraordinary The Lost Time Accidents, they blend seamlessly into the narrative, even for a complete dunce like me.
Mandelbrot the Magnificent is a small book, but it’s absolutely packed with ideas. Ziemska blends pure maths, Kabbalistic interpretation, magical realism…. you name it, all the while managing to contain them within a moving story of one family’s escape from certain death in Occupied France. Ultimately, Mandelbrot credits his discoveries for their survival. But the many possible realities presented by his theories leave him with a unique sense of survivor guilt. A thoughtful meditation on the double-edged sword of genius.
Mandelbrot the Magnificent by Liz Ziemska