A Divine Language: Learning Algebra, Geometry, and Calculus at the Edge of Old Age

Alec Wilkinson

In this captivating and heartfelt book, A Divine Language, the author shares his personal journey of reconnecting with mathematics later in life. Despite being “estranged” from the subject in school, at 65 years old and with a successful writing career behind him, he embarks on a quest to grasp the essentials of algebra, geometry, and calculus. Through both humorous and poignant anecdotes, Wilkinson recounts his struggles to master concepts that many bright teenagers find effortless. Fortunately, he receives guidance from his brilliant mathematician niece, Amie Wilkinson, who teaches at the esteemed University of Chicago.

As I read the author’s story, I couldn’t help but relate to his predicament. Like him, I too had a difficult experience with math in high school due to cruel teachers. It wasn’t until college, where I had exceptional and understanding instructors, that I began to appreciate the subject again.

While Wilkinson grapples with even basic high school-level math skills (and I share his disdain for word problems), his writing privileges a poetic and philosophical approach that only a seasoned writer with a wealth of life experience can bring. He contemplates the ethereal beauty of mathematics, marvels at the inner workings of minds wired for it, and explores the discrepancy between his struggles and his niece’s mathematical prowess.

With insightful quotes from eminent mathematicians and physicists such as Bertrand Russell, G. H. Hardy, and Roger Penrose, Wilkinson offers a fresh and captivating perspective on both the practical and aesthetic aspects of mathematics. A Divine Language is highly recommended for those who lost faith in math during their high school years and desire to rediscover its concepts later in life. A Divine Language is also a valuable read for young math prodigies seeking to expand their horizons and appreciate the profound philosophical dimensions of this quintessentially human pursuit.