This is a rambling collection of personal reminiscences and historical anecdotes. There is a lot of information about V. I. Arnold’s upbringing and family background, a number of interesting accounts of personal interactions with other mathematicians and scientists, and an odd assortment of semi-historical stories that the author has picked up during his lifetime.
The book is disappointing in that Arnold says almost nothing about the mathematics that has inspired him, and it is all a bit disorganized. Some of the stories appear more than once in slightly different versions. On page 8, we learn that his grandmother read an account of her own revolutionary activities in Pravda (or maybe Izvestiya) where it was reported that she had died long ago. On page 23 Arnold again tells us of his grandmother reading this story, but now it appeared in both Pravda and Izvestiya
The translation maintains a hint of the Russian in which it was originally written, which only serves to strengthen the impression that this is what one might imagine to hear during a long winter evening sitting at a kitchen table with Arnold as he recounts stories from his own life and interesting tales that others have told him. As such, it is a window into the life and personality of one of the great mathematicians of the 20th century.
David M. Bressoud is DeWitt Wallace Professor Mathematics at Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota.