Item description for Yesterday and Long Ago by Vladimir I. Arnold...
This charming book by one of the leading mathematicians of our day, Vladimir Igorevich Arnold, is a rambling collection of his memories from early childhood up to recent days. Some marvellous historical and geographical stories occupy a large part of the book. Their characteristic lively style draws the reader into the past as though it were happening today.
The book will be of value to historians of twentieth-century mathematics as source material, and mathematicians will read it for the pure pleasure of learning more about one of their most eminent colleagues. It has both humor and pathos, and even a non-mathematical reader will find it very difficult to put it away.
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Est. Packaging Dimensions: Length: 7.56" Width: 5.2" Height: 0.71" Weight: 0.79 lbs.
Release Date Nov 20, 2006
ISBN 3540287345 ISBN13 9783540287346
Availability 133 units. Availability accurate as of May 28, 2017 08:35.
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Reviews - What do customers think about Yesterday and Long Ago?
Slighter than expected Dec 22, 2006
I'm a big fan of V. Arnol'd's math and physics books, but not just because of their elegant exposition and abundant illustrations. Almost uniquely for their genre, they're filled with strong opinions and dry humor. So I'd been eagerly anticipating this book of memoirs ever since it was announced in a Springer mailing almost a year ago. The book's publication was delayed by many months.
What a shock, then, finally to see it in the flesh. As of this writing, this site doesn't tell you - but the book is the same teensy size as those books of meditations for managers or feline photographic humor you always find next to the bookstore cash register. You can easily read it while standing (or perhaps sitting or leaning) in the store or taking a long-ish coffee break in your university library.
The book has an unusual origin. In 1999, Arnol'd was found unconscious on a Paris pavement, having fallen from his bicycle. He recovered his health more quickly than expected, but had amnesia for several months. During his long recuperation, his French doctors forbade him to think about math. So he used his memory to recall a number of incidents about his grandparents, his youth and schooling, various notables from the histories of Russia and of mathematics, and more recent anecdotes about family and friends. That's what you'll find here, often augmented by photographs from his collection (many in that airbrushed Soviet style that older readers may recall from Cold War-era books).
Some of the stories are quite cute, such as one about his nephew that concludes the book. Others describe some interesting family background, which included mathematicians on both sides. But Arnol'd's reticence about certain subjects is frustrating. He speaks often of his wife, but there isn't a single photo of her at any age. His mother's family was Jewish, but he never mentions this explicitly or discusses his own Jewish identity (or lack thereof) despite strong discrimination during the Soviet era. Instead he tells a story that when some Israelis asked if he was anti-Semitic, he cited his sister's emigration to Israel as evidence to the contrary (though he attributes her emigration to her having suffered for being an artist, not for being Jewish). A little bit later on, he spends a couple of pages musing on the illogic of Voltaire and other historical anti-Semites. But he shares nothing more personal. Those curious about Arnol'd's inner life will be very disappointed.
Even if taken as a book of anecdotes, many stories will be of little interest to anyone but his friends, students and most indulgent readers, such as tales about a dog who got on a bus, or about a kayaking trip with friends. You'll learn about some obscene zodiacal puns in Russian (stiffly translated, by the way) and inane dialogues from his wife's English and French lessons, but not a whole lot about, e.g., Soviet mathematics education. (See his interview in April 1995 Notices of AMS for more substance on that topic.) The editing is at times lax, with some material from the main text repeated later in footnotes. There is a glossary of proper names, but no index.
I'm very sympathetic with the therapeutic purpose of the book, and glad if it's helped to restore this brilliant mathematician to health. But if you don't already have a deep curiosity about V. Arnol'd specifically, there isn't any real reason to read it. And even for fans like me, it would have been less of a let-down had Springer released it in the $12-$15 range, perhaps in paper - or at least had it done us the courtesy to disclose the book's dimensions ahead of time.