Review: Olsson’s The Weil Conjectures

The Weil Conjectures: On Math and the Pursuit of the Unknown

Karen Olsson

An odd but enjoyable little book about math and the deeply odd and brilliant Weil siblings (Simone, the writer mystic and activist and Andre Weil the mathematician).  Simone Weil was a troubled, brilliant, writer deeply affected by the suffering of others who may have died of starvation in an attempted solidarity with victims of World War II. Andrew was a gifted and also troubled mathematician who made serious contributions but perhaps never lived up to his early brilliance.

At its heart, this book is about how two brilliant siblings interacted, but it also gives us glimpses of the development of modern mathematics and meditations on Olsson’s own love affair with abstract math. I found this curious little book a joy to read, full of unexpected insights, but you need a some tolerance for abstract math and inter-war European leftist politics to enjoy it.

Recommended for the enthusiast.