Benoit B. Mandelbrot, the acclaimed mathematician and outspoken originator of the term “fractal”, died in 2010 at the age of 85. His contributions to geometry, dynamical systems, information theory, and modern finance, among others, have changed the face of scientific study and popular scientific inquiry. And yet, like so many, he could have been another unknown victim of the Holocaust. Felix Hausdorff and his family took their lives in January 1942 to avoid being sent to a camp. Wolfgang Doeblin, born only four months before Mandelbrot, ended his own life in 1940, at age 25, rather than be captured as a prisoner of war while fighting for France. The publication in 2000 of a 60-year sealed document of his unpublished works showed that he had developed work that anticipated crucial developments in stochastic calculus by over 10 years. But Mandelbrot was lucky. He and his family avoided capture by the shifting tide of European public sentiment, his family moving from Warsaw to Paris, and later settling in the small town of Tulle when the Nazis began to overtake French territory. Remarkably, he and his brother Léon were able to continue studies in Lyon as the war worsened, and amidst fear and fake IDs, escaped the brunt of what the war could have done to their lives.
And now, in Liz Ziemska’s striking novella Mandelbrot the Magnificent, we’re taken into an alternate history—one in which magic becomes as powerful as mathematics.