I read that-

“The tragedy of Ramanujan was not that he died young, but that his genius was misdirected, side-tracked, and to a certain extent : distorted.

The years between 18 and 25 are the critical years in a mathematician’s career, and the damage had been done. Ramanujan’s genius never had again its chance of full development.

He would probably have been a greater mathematician if he could have been caught and tamed a little in his youth, and He would have discovered more that was new, and that, no doubt, of greater importance.” - G.H. Hardy

I want to know what Hardy meant, so I can understand the problem he is referring to when someone don't get proper education. So my question is -

How it was exhibited/expressed/come to know that Ramanujan was misdirected, side-tracked, and distorted?


What Hardy meant by "caught and tamed a little in his youth"?

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    $\begingroup$ Personally, I find it hard to relate to Ramanujan's work as much as to that of some of his contemporaries. It's about the subjects I find more interesting (and important): topology, algebra, differential geometry, etc. Maybe that's what Hardy meant? $\endgroup$ Dec 31, 2019 at 14:01
  • $\begingroup$ You might get a fuller answer to your question by reading the wonderful book about Ramanujan, The Man Who Knew Infinity. $\endgroup$
    – Sue VanHattum
    Jan 4, 2020 at 4:28

1 Answer 1


I suspect that you might get more informed answers from the History of Science and Mathematics SE. You're sure to find more people who are more learned about the relationship between Hardy and Ramanujan than I am.

That said, I suspect that Hardy is talking about Ramanujan's relative inability to contribute to the mathematical progress of his day because he (Ramanujan) was not exposed to it during his formative years as an emerging mathematician. Ramanujan's results were self-inspired, so he wound up not generally building on pre-existing structures of mathematical knowledge. Certainly, people since have incorporated his work into our collective mathematical schema, but Hardy seems to be regretting that Ramanujan himself wasn't able to participate and respond to this growth.


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