Early in his career, mathematician Edward Frenkel had a secret love. He worked diligently on applied mathematics but would sneak away to indulge in the seductive problems of pure mathematics. Frenkel recounts his maturation from a young boy plagued by anti-Semitism in the USSR to a leader in his field.

Along the way, readers experience complex mathematical concepts as Frenkel did while developing his love affair with math. He admits that he was not always captivated by the subject. Like other teenagers, he assumed math was what he learned in school: quadratic equations, some calculus, geometry and trigonometry. He found the work easy, but pointless and irrelevant, he writes. Instead, quantum physics, and quarks in particular, first sparked his passion for numbers.

His path into this universe was not easy. In fact, part of his love affair with math stemmed from the discrimination he faced in the early 1980s. Frenkel was denied matriculation to Moscow State University despite acing the entrance exams, so he scaled the fence to attend lectures. Readers celebrate to learn that he later received a fellowship from Harvard that changed his fate forever.

These anecdotes are carefully mixed with small doses of increasingly more difficult mathematical concepts, such as symmetries and groups. Frenkel’s descriptions do not magically make these easy to understand. But his passion inspires readers to be as dogged in working through the complexities as Frenkel was in climbing to the top of the field

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