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First proof for the index theorem

Michael Atiyah


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A library should look like its owner

Jean-Claude Carrière - Film-maker

How to organise a library is something I write about, you could create a library with only books about 'how to organise a library' as there is no definitive solution. Not by area, by format, author or subject matter. It requires… my own library, which is spread over five or six rooms in the house and even in my country house is a walk-through library. You can walk from one bit to the next, you don't know what you are going to stumble upon, except maybe for a few authors who are together simply because they were published in the same format. Proust's books, for example, have always been published in the same format so they can stay together... I like that very much, a walk-through library... sometimes I need to carry out some excavation work on it... since I have forgotten what I have, as I have over 20,000 books. And from time to time, I say, 'Let's explore this corner, see if there is anything I have forgotten', which is often the case. There are also things that I have lost or that have been stolen, that can happen. And then there are also doubles, books I have bought having forgotten I already had them, which can also happen, so those I can sell off. A library is a work of art, there is no doubt about this, it looks like the person who composed it, worked on it, walks in it. It is like a portrait, it is like a mirror. A library is very personal and mine is spread out, complex, contradictory, much like my life has been.

[Q] It's the same for me, if I were, for instance, to ask you to find a book by Chateaubriand, the one with the sentence you've forgotten, would you find it straight away?

I need two minutes to find Chateaubriand because he is an author whom I like a lot, I would need two or three minutes. I know exactly where the book is... One should not think that a library that looks untidy actually is untidy. Untidiness is part of art and maybe I do know better where some books are than I would had they been tidy or put in a certain order. There is nothing worse than tidiness when you want to lose yourself.

Jeremy Bernstein - Scientist
Walter Murch - Film-maker
Freeman Dyson - Scientist
Marvin Minsky - Scientist
Eugene Garfield - Scientist