The Magazine

Balancing Act

Symmetry is more than a mathematician's conceit.

May 12, 2008, Vol. 13, No. 33 • By DAVID GUASPARI
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"Borcherds is right," he concludes. "In mathematics the real prize is not a medal, .  .  . but making the breakthrough on the problem you've dedicated your life to. The prize might be claimed at any time and any place: on a broken-down bus in Kashmir, on a Saturday in Cambridge at twenty past midnight, or while listening to an engaged signal on the end of a telephone line in Bonn."
If you want to know what being a mathematician is like, read this book.

David Guaspari is a writer in Ithaca,
New York.