A very busy man

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Laureates of mathematics and computer science meet the next generation
Heidelberg Laureate Forum

During the boat trip yesterday, I chatted briefly with Cédric Villani. The conversation was brief because he was in great demand, having arrived just the day before and leaving that evening. “Two days!” he said. “Two days is pretty good for me now, because I am so busy.”

“Has it been hard to find the time to get math done since you won the Fields Medal?” I asked.

“Not hard,” he said. “Impossible!” In the last three years, he said, he’d given more than 100 public lectures, been involved in countless fundraising events  and written a book.

I had a vague memory of a book that he’d written laying out the math of his field of study from when I wrote the description of his work when he won the Fields Medal, and I assumed he was referring to that. But no; it turned out he was talking about a literary book, a memoir describing the two and a half years he spent proving his theorem about the existence of Landau damping. The book is called Théorème Vivant, and it came out in French in 2012. It’s already been translated into Italian, German and Serbian (Serbian?), and it’s in the process of being translated into English, Romanian, Bulgarian, Japanese and Korean. The English translation is expected to be out in about a year.

“You’ve never seen a book like it,” he declared. “I describe things in a very emotional way.”

Reading his website gives a hint of this; he says that it includes not only equations, historical notes and quotes from emails, but poems, songs, and excerpts from novels. It has been a big hit in France; Villani said he earned more money from his book last year than he did from his professor’s salary.

I’m also pleased to report that he said that he’s been at MSRI this semester, and at long last, has been able to do some math.

More about Villani

Beatrice’s Interview with Villani: Readers become Witnesses – Cédric Villani

John’s Interview with Villani

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is a freelance math and science writer who writes the Math Trek column at Science News (http://bit.ly/mathtrek). She also writes frequently for Discover Magazine and Wired. She studied algebraic topology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

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