Books by Robert Kanigel

EYES ON THE STREET by Robert Kanigel
Released: Sept. 20, 2016

"An outstanding chronicle of a provocative, influential, iconoclastic theorist of the American cityscape."
A significant, comprehensive biography of an irrepressible urbanist, author, and pioneering community activist. Read full book review >
ON AN IRISH ISLAND by Robert Kanigel
Released: Feb. 13, 2012

"A mesmerizing interplay of lives and socio-historical contexts."
A richly detailed biographical study of a group of early-20th-century intellectuals whose shared love for a dying insular culture helped save it from extinction. Read full book review >
Released: June 3, 2002

"Like an enthralled biologist, the author observes the evolution of Nice as a social ecosystem. His portrait is as spellbinding as its subject. (Photographs)"
Kanigel (The One Best Way, 1997, etc.) knits together, from dozens of intriguing sources, an urbane history of Nice. Read full book review >
Released: May 1, 1997

A circumspect biography of America's first efficiency expert, sensitive to both Taylor's limitations and his impact on the world. Even given the wholehearted, if naive, belief in science in the early 20th century, Frederick Winslow Taylor stood out in his devotion to the god of efficiency. Efforts to rationalize and speed up production were dubbed ``Taylorism'' because his claims were bolder, his conceptions more rigid, and his self-promotions more concerted than those of his contemporaries. He advocated piece-rate pay scales, determined through time studies establishing how long a job should take, with the details of each task prescribed by management to remove any exercise of judgment by workers. To explain the mind that envisioned this system, science writer Kanigel (The Man Who Knew Infinity, 1991) emphasizes the combination of privileged personal circumstances and ordinary mental capacities that made Taylor both a product of his environment and completely un-self-conscious of this fact. Far from a revolutionary or even creative thinker, Taylor remained firmly ensconced in the mainstream of his own wealthy, educated social class, never considering the possibility that his view of ``the lower sort'' could be a function of snobbery or ignorance. At a time when industrial expansion depended on increasing productivity and progressives in all areas promoted efficiency and expertise, Taylor became the guru of workplace reorganization. Kanigel is fair: He recognizes that Taylor understood his system as a utopia in which employers obtained higher production and employees higher pay. However, the attendant loss of human dignity and worker creativity was a steep price to pay, even if it was a function of narrow-mindedness rather than perniciousness. Kanigel's lively prose and sense of irony make this biography an enjoyable read. (8 pages b&w photos, not seen) (Author tour) Read full book review >
Released: May 1, 1991

Destructive forces of East and West combine to crush the flower of genius in this brilliantly realized biography of a self- taught, turn-of-the-century mathematician, by the author of Apprentice to Genius (1986). Born in 1887 to humble circumstances in a southern Indian backwater, Srinivasa Ramanujan Iyengar received little encouragement in his growing obsession for mathematics—fueled particularly by his discovery of a forty-year-old math book written by an English tutor. Nevertheless, Ramanujan began compulsively filling his own notebooks with scribbled mathematical theorums, heedless of the fact that he was flunking out of one after another of the area's universities, all designed by the British to train native administrators rather than cultivate Indian genius. At age 26, unemployable, misunderstood and desperate for sponsorship, Ramanujan mailed a sample of his work to the eminent young British mathematician, G. H. Hardy, thus initiating what would become one of the surprising discoveries of twentieth-century mathematics—his own brilliant, still insufficiently-plumbed, understanding of the nature of numbers. Greatly impressed, Hardy arranged for Ramajuran to join him in Cambridge, where the Indian enjoyed the joys of subsidized intellectual labor and international appreciation at the price of giving up the daily spiritual sustenance provided by his own culture. The trade-off proved too much. Prevented from returning to India once World War I commenced, cut off from the spiritual element he'd always integrated into his mathematical theories, and with only the ascetic atheist, Hardy, for company, Ramanujan went into a steep physical decline. Seven years after his arrival in England, at age 33, he was dead. Kanigel's particular interest in how primitive superstition, India's bureaucratic mindset, English spiritual asceticism and a Western war combined to destroy the miracle of Ramanujan's genius adds deeper dimensions to the already fascinating story of a difficult but astoundingly fruitful cross-cultural co Read full book review >