Biography

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 567

Godfrey Harold (G. H.) Hardy was born on February 7, 1877, in Cranleigh, Surrey, England. Both his parents were educators and possessed mathematical skills. Even before learning to speak as a very young child, he demonstrated an extraordinary IQ and performed mathematical computations to amuse himself. After winning a scholarship to Winchester College in 1889, Hardy began the rigorous training of a mathematician.

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In 1896, he entered Trinity College, Cambridge, where he trained under A. E. H. Love, who gave him his first serious conception of analysis by introducing him to Camille Jordan’s Cours d’analyse. Thereafter, Hardy committed his life to mathematics, and by 1908 he had already made a significant contribution, with his greatest work in this early period being A Course of Pure Mathematics.

A watershed year for Hardy was 1911, as it marked the beginning of his thirty-five-year collaboration with fellow mathematician J. E. Littlewood. Two years later, in 1913, he received an unsolicited manuscript from Indian mathematician Srinivasa Ramanujan. Hardy immediately spotted Ramanujan’s genius and brought him to Cambridge where, between 1914 and 1918, the men engaged in what would become one of mathematics’ most remarkable collaborations.

It was during the years of World War I that Hardy also became known for his outspoken political views. Unlike most of his contemporaries and colleagues, Hardy held the Germans in high regard for their intellectual prowess and contributions to scientific thought. His ingrained distrust of British politicians contributed to his deep anger at Great Britain’s participation in the war. He was particularly upset over the interruption it caused in his various collaborations with colleagues outside England.

In 1919, Hardy left Cambridge for a position as the Savilian professor of geometry at Oxford, where he remained until 1931, at which time he returned to Cambridge, where he finished his professional career. An avid cricket fan and tennis player, Hardy remained physically active throughout his life until 1939 when, at the age of sixty-two, he had a heart attack. His remarkable mental powers quickly began to leave him and sports became impossible. He was also filled with anger that Europe had again entered into war. However, Hardy had one further gift to leave to the world, namely A Mathematician’s Apology, published in 1940, which has inspired many people towards mathematics.

By the time World War II ended in 1945, Hardy’s health was failing fast, as was his creativity. He gradually became depressed, and in early summer 1947, he unsuccessfully tried to take his own life by taking a large dose of barbiturates. He took so many, however, that he became sick before he died, and he was resuscitated and survived.

Hardy, who became almost as well known for his outspoken beliefs and rebellious spirit as for his mathematical skills, once listed among his most ardent wishes: 1) To prove the Riemann hypothesis (a famous unsolved mathematical problem); 2) to make a brilliant play in a crucial cricket match; 3) to prove the nonexistence of God; and 4) to murder Mussolini, the Italian fascist leader (Hoffman, The Man Who Only Knew Numbers).

Over the course of his lifetime, Hardy received many honors for his work. He was elected a fellow of the Royal Society in 1910, and he received the Royal Medal of the society in 1920 and the Sylvester Medal of the society in 1940. On December 1, 1947, shortly after hearing that he was to be given the Copley Medal, the highest honor of the Royal Society, Hardy passed away in Cambridge, Cambridgeshire, England.

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