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Perelman's Refusal: A Novel

Philippe Zaouati
Publication Date: 
Number of Pages: 
[Reviewed by
Manjil Saikia
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Grigori Perelman, the secluded Russian genius who proved the Poincaré conjecture and refused to accept a million dollar prize is well known to the whole mathematics community. What is less known is the encounter of John Ball, then President of the International Mathematical Union, and Perelman in the summer of 2006 at St. Petersberg, where Ball tried to convince Perelman to accept the Fields Medal he was about to be presented in the upcoming International Congress of Mathematicians. The book, a work of fiction is primarily about this encounter between Ball and Perelman.
The book consists mostly of conversations between Perelman and Ball which have been imagined by the author, Philippe Zaouati. The author notes in the end that he had met Ball and discussed Ball and Perelman’s meeting in St. Petersburg, but none of the conversations between them were discussed properly so Zaouati had to imagine them all, hence this book is a proper work of fiction.
The book discusses several philosophical questions that arise about mathematics and mathematicians. But given its length (a mere 133 pages) it does not give any deep insight into any of those questions. Readers looking for a primer in the Poincaré conjecture or any non-trivial mathematics would be disappointed. Although some amount of historical anecdotes about mathematicians and the history of the Soviet Union are sprinkled in the book, it is not very central to the narrative. The description of Poincaré Conjecture itself is not entirely correct and could possibly have been made mathematically more meaningful by the editors at AMS.
Manjil Saikia ( is presently at Cardiff University, UK. He studied mathematics at Tezpur (India), Trieste (Italy) and Vienna (Austria), and manages the bilingual (Assamese and English) website Gonit Sora (