Saturday, July 27, 2013

The Fractalist

Born in 1924 from a family of noted European mathematicians, Benoit Mandelbrot had an early interest in maps, and began early on to study nature's rough terrains - phenomena beyond traditional geometry and its straight lines and arcs. In a long research and academic career, with much help from the first commercial computers that came about after World War II, he created fractal geometry.

In his memoir, "The Fractalist," partially completed before his death in 2010 (and finally compiled by family and colleagues), Mandelbrot tells the tale behind the tale - the one best remembered in his widely read "The Fractal Geometry of Nature."

He shows the excitement he found in his early evolution as a scientist, one who had Kepler as an idle. He writes: "I allowed my finger to be touched by a complicated set of gears that soon grabbed my body - and never let go." (This after Uncle Szolem gave him a reprint of a review of Zipf book.)

It is amazing how may paths crossed his: Paul Levy, Robert Oppenheimer, John Cocke, John von Neumann, Stephen Jay Gould ... more. All giving color to his narration. His quest was sincere, he seemed to have made friends. Ultimately, and not surprisingly, the book comes up a bit uneven. 

As I read this book I "took notes" and copped fractals from around the Web and put together an episodic type of book review on Pinterest. The page is called The Fractalist - Mandelbrot SetThe hunt for the fractal is somewhat episodic, or fragmentary. No one Eureka achieved, but a lot of interesting moments along the way. If you are interested in statistics, science, math or philosophy: Worthy reading. (I'd also take the opp to plug as a companion book "Introducing Fractal Geometry" by Nigel Lesmoir-Gordon, et al. which is a great graphic-novel style history and study of fractals.)

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