David Leavitt's novel The Indian Clerk is a wonderful story based on the relationship between G. H. Hardy and Srinivasa Ramanujan. Leavitt does a remarkable job of presenting the atmosphere of Cambridge in the early 1900s and the chain of events that brought Ramanujan there. The balance between mathematics, daily events and human interactions is weaved into the tale in a way that invites the reader into an exciting moment in history. As with all historical novels, there are parts of the book that seemed a little slow, but overall this was an enjoyable story.
Mathematics plays an important role throughout the novel. The level of mathematics ranges from a proof of the infinitude of primes to examples of magic squares. The importance of mathematics to these men and how it affects their relationship is evident throughout the story.
We are given a glimpse into the working relationship between Littlewood and Hardy — however fictitious the description may be it is still an interesting look at how they may have interacted. The timelessness of the Riemann Hypothesis and the excitement surrounding it is masterfully conveyed.
This novel presents a snapshot of mathematics and the lives of people who are passionate about it. It is a good book to recommend to undergraduate students to help them gain a sense of the context in which pure mathematics can occur. Certainly the legend of Ramanujan, Hardy and Littlewood is enough to tempt any number theorist, but all who read it will be rewarded.