Review of Stephen Wolfram’s ‘remarkable book with flashes of insight that will engage computer scientists, physicists, historians […] as it weaves personal stories into the deep import of how and what they calculated’, according to Peter Galison.
I bought this book after visiting the Museum of Mathematics in New York a few years ago. It has been some time since I started or finished reading it, but I still wanted to write a few sentences about it.
In the book ‘Idea Makers’, Stephen Wolfram tells stories about either his personal interactions with fascinating people, or his research about them. One chapter is dedicated to each person.
The chapters include notable ideas of these people as well. The people written about include:
- Richard Feynman
- Kurt Gödel
- Alan Turing
- John von Neumann
- George Boole
- Ada Lovelace
- Gottfried Leibniz
- Benoit Mandelbrot
- Steve Jobs
- Marvin Minsky
- Russel Towle
- Bertrand Russel & Alfred Whitehead
- Richard Crandall
- Srinivasa Ramanujan
- Solomon Golomb
While I have heard most names before, I knew a few better than others. I was more delighted to read about those I knew already, but I wonder why I had not heard as much about the others yet. I learned a lot, reading it was fascinating.
My recommendation would be for everyone interested in STEM or modern history.
Reading about all of these people, or the impressions and research Stephen Wolfram has done on them was both entertaining and full of interesting insights and details. While it doesn’t technically have any relevant information for today, it is fun sharing these tidbits of lore with friends in technical discussions about these people. Most technical people know a bit about them, and most (STEM) people enjoy learning additional weird details.
Of course, he explains various details about his wolfram language when possible. While I have used it before (like probably every student with a STEM major), I was not aware of how powerful the language was currently is, or even what the goals were. It inspired me to read through what the wolfram language is capable of today, and I learned quite a few interesting bits there.
These are both indirect takeaways. This is probably because it has been some time since I have read the book, and these are the biggest I still notice.
I enjoyed reading it. And I enjoyed sharing the content. This could have been in part because I’m generally interested in the history of things, especially technical ones and the history of scientific progress. Even if not specifically interested in history, an interest in science is still rewarded generously here.
The many references to the Wolfram language were close to be annoying. But I can see that this is just part of the point of view from Stephen Wolfram.
Apart from that, I would recommend everyone with an interest in science, mathematics, physics or history - there are quite a few interesting nuggets in it.
No quotes, since I did not take notes while reading it.