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Old 06-30-2000, 07:21 PM
Wendell Wagner Wendell Wagner is offline
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Join Date: Jul 1999
Location: Greenbelt, Maryland
Posts: 13,786
Jeff_42 writes:

> I'd throw the name Srinivasa Ramanujan into the genius
> hat.
> Born in India and living in near complete poverty he
> taught himself nearly a thousand years of western
> mathematics. That is to say, he didn't read a book and
> learn so much as derive most of what constituted advanced
> mathematics all by himself. He wrote a letter to Godfrey
> Hardy, a famous british mathematician, who arranged for a
> scholarship and had Srinivasa brought to England.

This is the romanticized version of Ramanujan's life. Here's the facts:

He was born into a Brahmin family. His father was a clerk. Anybody who could as much as read in late 19th century India clearly wasn't poor, and Ramanujan graduated from high school and started college, so he was way above the average in education already. He was recognized as a genius in his early teens, and he entered the University of Madras at 16 with a scholarship. He spent all his time there on math and neglected his other subjects, so he lost his scholarship. Still, other Indian mathematicians recognized how good he was and helped find him a job as a clerk so he could do his mathematical work at night. By the time he wrote Hardy, he had already published a mathematical paper. It was another Indian mathematician who suggested that Ramanujan should write G. H. Hardy, since he knew that Hardy was the only one who might be able to help Ramanujan with his research.