Benoit Mandelbrot: A turbulent life

Famed mathematician Benoit Mandelbrot passed away last Thursday at the age of 85. Best known for his pioneering work on fractal geometry and influence on chaos theory, Mandelbrot was a rare generalist in an age of academic specialization, with work touching on subjects from physics, to biology, to astronomy. The financial turbulence of recent years ...

By , a former associate editor at Foreign Policy.
ILLUSTRATION BY JOSEPH CIARDIELLO FOR FP
ILLUSTRATION BY JOSEPH CIARDIELLO FOR FP
ILLUSTRATION BY JOSEPH CIARDIELLO FOR FP

Famed mathematician Benoit Mandelbrot passed away last Thursday at the age of 85. Best known for his pioneering work on fractal geometry and influence on chaos theory, Mandelbrot was a rare generalist in an age of academic specialization, with work touching on subjects from physics, to biology, to astronomy. The financial turbulence of recent years rekindled an interest in his studies on financial markets, best explained in the 2006 book "The (Mis)Behavior of Markets."

Last year I spoke with Mandelbrot for FP's Epiphanies feature: 

I had a very eventful early life. My father's business in Poland failed during the Great Depression. After we moved to Paris, we had to move again when World War II started, and we settled in a very remote area of France, the equivalent of Appalachia. We were very lucky, but it's probably not an accident that I became interested in studying turbulence and risk. They were very much a part of my life.

Famed mathematician Benoit Mandelbrot passed away last Thursday at the age of 85. Best known for his pioneering work on fractal geometry and influence on chaos theory, Mandelbrot was a rare generalist in an age of academic specialization, with work touching on subjects from physics, to biology, to astronomy. The financial turbulence of recent years rekindled an interest in his studies on financial markets, best explained in the 2006 book "The (Mis)Behavior of Markets."

Last year I spoke with Mandelbrot for FP‘s Epiphanies feature: 

I had a very eventful early life. My father’s business in Poland failed during the Great Depression. After we moved to Paris, we had to move again when World War II started, and we settled in a very remote area of France, the equivalent of Appalachia. We were very lucky, but it’s probably not an accident that I became interested in studying turbulence and risk. They were very much a part of my life.

Near the end of the war, the time came for me to take my university exams. Because we kept moving around during the war, I hadn’t really prepared at all. Yet, after taking the exams, I came in first in my class in math. How did I do it? The truth is, I cheated. I hadn’t studied any of the formulas that were on the exam, but I had an understanding of geometry, which helped me get the answers.

Read the rest here.

Joshua Keating was an associate editor at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @joshuakeating

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