G.H. Hardy

On this date in 1877, Godfrey Harold Hardy was born in Surry, England. Hardy’s parents were teachers, and he showed mathematical ability very early on in life. He attended Winchester College, a traditional British boarding school, for secondary education, where he was awarded a scholarship for mathematics. He entered Trinity College, Cambridge in 1896, where he studied mathematics. Continuing at Cambridge and independently studying Continental mathematics, he earned his M.A. (at the time, the highest degree available) in 1903. He worked as a lecturer at Cambridge from 1909 until 1919, when he left for Oxford, where he took the Savilian Chair of Geometry. In 1931, he became Sadlerian Professor at Cambridge, a position he held until 1941. Hardy never married and had no known romantic attachments; he himself described his mentorship of the young Indian mathematician Srinivasa Ramanujan as “the one romantic incident of my life.” His sister cared for him in his old age.

Hardy helped to bring a new tradition of pure mathematics to England, which had remained largely applied since the time of Isaac Newton. He worked to bring pure mathematical rigor and proofs to Cambridge, helping to reform the old curriculum which featured many practical problems in hydrodynamics. Although Hardy’s work at the time was purely theoretical, it has since been used to solve many practical problems. Many of his contributions were in the field of mathematical analysis and analytic number theory. Hardy was a life-long atheist, refusing to enter a chapel even for funerals or for elections of college officials. D. 1947.

1. To prove the Riemann hypothesis;
2. To make a brilliant play in a crucial cricket match;
3. To prove the nonexistence of God;
4. To be the first man atop Mount Everest;
5. To be proclaimed the first president of the U.S.S.R., Great Britain, and Germany; and
6. To murder Mussolini.

—A list of New Year’s resolutions sent by Hardy to a friend in the 1940’s, according to Paul Hoffman, The Man Who Loved Only Numbers (1998)

Compiled by Eleanor Wroblewski; Photo in the public domain

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