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The Boy Who Dreamed of Infinity

The Boy Who Dreamed of Infinity

Amy Alznauer, Illustrated by Daniel Miyares
Candlewick
2020
48 pp.
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This coming-of-age tale is so vibrant and imaginative that a reader might forget that it is also the true story of Indian mathematician Srinivasa Ramanujan, who made substantial contributions to number theory and the study of infinite series. Author Amy Alznauer, a math professor at Northwestern University, takes readers to Ramanujan’s birthplace in South India at the turn of the 20th century.

We meet Ramanujan first as a cherished infant prophesied to become a great thinker. But for most of this story, we see a more relatable character: a bored student, irritating teachers with his precociousness and sneaking off to be alone with his thoughts. When Ramanujan contemplates a mango—mentally cutting it into smaller and smaller pieces—he stares into infinity. In clouds, temple statues, and his mother’s folktales, Ramanujan sees numbers and mysteries. Despite his mathematical brilliance, he fails out of college and is left destitute, despairing that his ideas will never reach the wider world. Alznauer’s story ends as Ramanujan accepts an invitation from mathematician G. H. Hardy to work and study in England—a decision that will propel Ramanujan to greatness.

By focusing mainly on his youth, The Boy Who Dreamed of Infinity offers only vague glimpses of Ramanujan’s ultimate contributions to mathematics. But the book’s message transcends the world of academic research. This vivid story, which tumbles across the book’s pages in Daniel Miyares’s kinetic illustrations, celebrates the power of a self-assured and independent child. It could encourage young readers to identify their own passions and acknowledge their own brilliance before the adult world gets wise.

About the author

The reviewer is a news writer at Science.