Thursday, 22 September 2011


The Genius in my Basement by Alexander Masters

Back when I was reading all of the World Book Night books I discovered, and was blown away by, Stuart: A Life Backwards by Masters. A couple of months ago, when reading through publisher catalogues I saw that he had a new book coming, it instantly went on reserve in the library.

The book arrived and I duly put aside everything else I was already reading to start this one. It wasn't the joyous read I was expecting.

Again Masters has written a biography about a person who isn't a typical subject for a book. Simon Norton was Masters' landlord and a friendship grew up between them:
One of the greatest mathematical prodigies of the twentieth century stomps around the basement in semi-darkness, dodging between stalagmites of bus timetables and engorged plastic bags. He eats tinned kippers stirred into packets of Bombay Mix. Simon is exploring a theoretical puzzle so complex and critical to our understanding of the universe that it is known as the Monster. It looks like a sudoku table - except a sudoku table has nine columns of numbers.

The Monster has 8080174242794512875886459904961710757005754368000000000.

I am not sure if it is because I don't understand the maths (confession after the 3rd chapter dedicated to the Monster I skipped those bits), if is because the subject isn't actually that interesting or if it is because the book seems to be too much about Masters rather than Norton, but I found the book a slog.

I'm not totally put off reading Masters' next book - if he writes one - but I won't be looking forward to it with such excitement. That makes me sad because I really did find Stuart a gem.

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