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“Fearless”: Princeton Mathematician Sergiu Klainerman on Berlinski’s Human Nature

David Klinghoffer


David Berlinski’s terrific new book, Human Nature, is about many things, including the influential evolutionary or Whig understanding of history that sees human culture and human nature on a largely upward slope, toward greater and greater enlightenment. Defying that view, as Berlinski does in unique style, requires hardly less courage than defying its parallel in evolutionary biology.

So Sergiu Klainerman, Eugene Higgins Professor of Mathematics at Princeton University, puts his finger on some of David Berlinski’s special virtues as a thinker and writer:

Berlinski combines mastery of classical culture and deep knowledge of mathematics and the natural sciences with sharp, elegant, and insightful writing. The man is fearless in pursuing lines of reasoning that are considered taboo by current standards. A wonderful display of common sense and reason at a time of great confusions.

The role of fear in the debate about evolution is undeniable. Along with groupthink, hyper-specialization, and an immoderate concern about personal and professional prestige, fear of offending the censors helps maintain the intellectual “consensus.” Berlinski is majestic in casting aside all such concerns.

Photo: David Berlinski and a feline friend, via Le Figaro (with permission).