The odds are that the name Alexandre Grothendieck will mean little or nothing to most Spectator readers. It’s a name I heard for the first time in high summer two years or so ago, not long, as I remember it, after the film A Beautiful Mind had come out. I was in the garden of my friend Umar’s house in Cambridge, and we were waiting for his ancient cast-iron barbecue, Camp Freddie, to cook some sausages.
Every generation lives a little longer than the last — it’s the sign of an advancing society. A hundred years ago the average British life expectancy at birth was 45. Now it is 75, giving us a blissful free decade at the end of our working lives to spend fending off great-grandchildren and watching wide-screen television. The downside is that as we live longer and as doctors become better at warding off death, we pass an ever greater percentage of our lives suffering.