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The Indian Clerk

David Leavitt
Publication Date: 
Number of Pages: 
[Reviewed by
Suzanne Caulk
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David Leavitt's novel The Indian Clerk is a wonderful story based on the relationship between G. H. Hardy and Srinivasa Ramanujan. Leavitt does a remarkable job of presenting the atmosphere of Cambridge in the early 1900s and the chain of events that brought Ramanujan there. The balance between mathematics, daily events and human interactions is weaved into the tale in a way that invites the reader into an exciting moment in history. As with all historical novels, there are parts of the book that seemed a little slow, but overall this was an enjoyable story.

Mathematics plays an important role throughout the novel. The level of mathematics ranges from a proof of the infinitude of primes to examples of magic squares. The importance of mathematics to these men and how it affects their relationship is evident throughout the story.

We are given a glimpse into the working relationship between Littlewood and Hardy — however fictitious the description may be it is still an interesting look at how they may have interacted. The timelessness of the Riemann Hypothesis and the excitement surrounding it is masterfully conveyed.

This novel presents a snapshot of mathematics and the lives of people who are passionate about it. It is a good book to recommend to undergraduate students to help them gain a sense of the context in which pure mathematics can occur. Certainly the legend of Ramanujan, Hardy and Littlewood is enough to tempt any number theorist, but all who read it will be rewarded.

Suzanne Caulk is an assistant professor of mathematics at Regis University in Denver, CO. She is very interested in modular forms. You can email her at
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akirak's picture

I really enjoyed reading this book. It is an excellent account of mathematicians and other academics at Cambridge between 1913 to 1919. Initially it was difficult to know which parts of the book were fiction and which were fact. It is essentially based on historical facts, but with entertaining fiction sprinkled throughout. It is only when you read the "Sources and Acknowledgments' section that you realise the scattering of fiction.

I did like the style of the author and the way he dipped into some mathematics in this book. You feel that you have understood some of background mathematics behind Ramanujan, Hardy and Littlewood.

However, I did not see the need for the visual and technical detail of gay sex in such a book. This should not put the reader off because it is only highlighted in rare instances.

This is a book for anybody interested in history of mathematics or mathematics in general. You do not need to be a mathematician to appreciate this book. Overall I would say this is a very successful book and would recommend anybody interested in mathematics fiction or fact to purchase this book.