The Schmooze

Misdiagnosing a Russian Jewish Mathematician

The highly eccentric, reclusive 43-year-old Russian Jewish mathematician Grigori Perelman devised proofs for a number of important problems, most famously the Poincaré Conjecture, a longstanding topology puzzler, only to abandon mathematics just as fame and prizes exploded around him.

To write about this curious character, the publishers of a recent book, “Perfect Rigor: a Genius and the Mathematical Breakthrough of the Century,” were fortunate to get the Russian Jewish journalist Masha Gessen, who has a strong track record as a gay rights advocate and whose books also focus on her Jewish background. Gessen’s “Two Babushkas: How My Grandmothers Survived Hitler’s War and Stalin’s Peace” is a telling account of how her family negotiated Soviet antisemitism, while “Blood Matters: From Inherited Illness to Designer Babies, How the World and I Found Ourselves in the Future of the Gene” describes issues relating to Gessen’s discovery that she has the genetic mutation which predisposes Ashkenazic Jewish women to breast cancer.

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Misdiagnosing a Russian Jewish Mathematician

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