Cédric Villani is a famous French mathematician who is renowned for his work on partial differential equations, Riemannian geometry and mathematical physics.  Cédric won the Fields Medal in 2010 for his work on Landau damping and the Boltzmann equation.  He has also gained notoriety this year for his TED talk, where he works to convince his audience of why maths is sexy.  Yes, you heard that right, sexy maths.  If there is a man to do it, it is Cédric Villani.  His passion for all things mathematics is infectious, and in his talk he speaks of the thrill of discovery.  I’m honoured to speak with one of the world’s most respected mathematicians, Cédric Villani…

When someone asks you ‘what do you do for a living?’ – How do you respond?

Mathematician. And all those sort of things; books, articles, lectures, conferences, meetings, travels, directing, organizing, whatever.

thinking fast and slowWhat are you reading at the moment?

Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman. And, from time to time, Napoleon the Great by Andrew Roberts.

When you think about your childhood, what book comes to mind?

Impossible to name one in particular. Fantômette by Georgia Chaulet; the Adventures of Arsène Lupin by Maurice Leblanc, Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle; Rouletabille; Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll; the books of J.R.R. Tolkien, Boris Vian, Alexandre Dumas, Jules Verne; and many Dinosaur books!

What did you want to be when you were growing up?

No definite plan.

What do you think your school aged self would think of the present day you?

Tricky question. Hopefully he would think that I am lecturing cool stuff.  The young me would certainly be proud to see that I have become friends with some of his favorite science authors, like Philippe Taquet (dinosaur expert) and Hubert Reeves (cosmologist), and would be sad that I never met Stephen Jay Gould.

message to adolfIf you could wrap up a single book and gift it to yourself as you left education – which book would it be?

Message to Adolf by Osamu Tezuka.

Does your reading have routine? Is there a particular time or place that you like to read?

When immersed in a book I read anywhere: on the train, on the bus, or even on the street.

Which book has had the biggest impact on your career so far?

By a long shot, the books which I wrote myself, either mathematical (Optimal transport, Old and New) or broad-audience (Theoreme Vivant, aka Birth of a Theorem).

Do you have any books that you strongly associate with someone important in your life?

Many mangas are associated with my kids who read them again and again after me, especially Princess Knight, Black Jack, Death Note and Nausicaa. Le Bossu by Paul Féval and Philip K. Dick’s novels were so strongly associated with my father, that I personally put one copy of each in his coffin. Néropolis by Hubert Monteilhet and On Growth and Form by D’Arcy Thompson are associated with my mother. The list could continue, but that’s already a good start.

What book have you recommended the most to friends and family?

I would have to decide between Guns, Germs and Steel by Jared Diamond; The Idea Factory by Jon Gertner; 6 and 5 by Alexandre Laumonier; and the current one, Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman which I have recommended to all around me even before I finished it.

Do you prefer fiction or non-fiction?

Both are equally important.

Do you think reading is important?

I don’t know but it has been the start of everything in my life.

economixWhat’s the best book you’ve read in the last 6 months?

Economix by Michael Goodwin and Dan Burr. Or maybe Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman which I am reading right now. They go well together.

Do you prefer real books or digital books?

I always read real books.

Name a book that you feel every human should have to read by law.

Petit Prince by Saint-Exupéry.

What is the book that you feel has had the single biggest impact on your life?

Maybe Metamagical Themas by Douglas Hofstadter.

Are there any books you haven’t mentioned that you feel would make your reading list?

So many many. Books by Borges, Hugo, Boulgakov, Melville, Fredric Brown, Ray Bradbury, Steinbeck, Neil Gaiman, Alan Moore, Vian, Balzac, JRR Tolkien, Buzzati…

What books or subject matter do you plan on reading in the next year?

Some old and more recent, some classics and some more confidential.
Karamazov Brothers by Dostoyevsky,
Goldfinch by Donna Tartt,
Economie du bien Commun by Jean Tirole,
Hyperion by Dan Simmons,
Democracy in America by Alexis de Tocqueville,
The Measure of all Things by Ken Alder,
Suite Française by Irène Némirovsky,
1Q84 by Haruki Murakami, and so many others.

If you were to write an autobiography – what would it be called?

Maybe “L’Evadé”. But who knows. I don’t plan on writing it any time soon, so any tentative title may change 10 times or more.

If you’d like to learn more about Cédric Villani, you can do so on his website and his Twitter.