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Prologue to a book which I was reading ends with this verbatim copy-pasted text:

A book should be dedicated to someone living, so that the dedication can give pleasure. I have dedicated this book to my wife, who knows very well how sincere that dedication is. There is a sense, though, not to be left unremarked in a prologue, in which this book most properly belongs to Bernhard Riemann, who, in a short life blighted with much misfortune, gave to his fellow men so very, very much of everlasting value—including a problem that continues to vex them a century and a half after, in a characteristically diffident aside, he noted his own “fleeting vain attempts” to resolve it.

John Derbyshire — Prime Obsession: Bernhard Riemann and the Greatest Unsolved Problem in Mathematics pub. National Academies Press, 2003

I get what John Derbyshire wants to say, though I wonder whether there is something somewhat wrong with the third sentence, starting with "There is" & ending with "resolve it": I am unable to parse it satisfactorily.
(The issue starts with the unexpected "he noted" , which seems jarring.)

I could simplify it like this:

There is a sense in which this book most properly belongs to Bernhard Riemann who gave to his fellow men so very, very much of everlasting value, including a problem that continues to vex them a century and a half after in a characteristically diffident aside he noted his own “fleeting vain attempts” to resolve it.

Parsing that requires simplifying further, though I have to make it 2 Sentences.

Parseable Version 1 :

This book belongs to Bernhard Riemann who gave a problem , in a characteristically diffident aside.
He noted his own “fleeting vain attempts” to resolve it.

Parseable Version 2 :

This book belongs to Bernhard Riemann who gave a problem.
In a characteristically diffident aside, he noted his own “fleeting vain attempts” to resolve it.

Both are historically valid :
Bernhard Riemann gave a Problem in a diffident aside.
Bernhard Riemann noted his attempts in a diffident aside.

Either way , the Original third Sentence looks ungrammatical & making it 2 Sentences makes it grammatical.

I have a third way to make it grammatical by adding a conjunction "and" between the 2 Sentences.

Parseable Version 3 :

This book belongs to Bernhard Riemann who gave a problem and noted his own “fleeting vain attempts” to resolve it.

I have this last ( no more edits from my side !! ) fourth way to make it grammatical by making it a relative clause.

Parseable Version 4 :

This book belongs to Bernhard Riemann who gave a problem , for which he noted his own “fleeting vain attempts” at resolution.

Questions:

Is my thinking right about the original sentence missing out a word or two (at least missing the conjunction) or somewhat mixing up the structure?
Alternately: Is there a way to parse the original sentence to show that it too is grammatically correct?

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  • 1
    I think the problem stems from the "he noted..." clause. It's probably good to point that out, lest your question gets closed as requiring focus on something specific.
    – Joachim
    Nov 21, 2023 at 12:35
  • Are you still unable to parse it if you remove the parenthetical "in a characteristically diffident aside"? When trying to understand a sentence, eliminating parenthetical elements is a good approach. I don't see a problem with it, although it would be clearer had he put "in a characteristically diffident aside" after "he noted".
    – Stuart F
    Nov 21, 2023 at 12:53
  • A simplification involves putting a full stop after 'value' followed by 'His legacy includes a problem that continues to vex mathematicians a century and a half after, in a characteristically diffident aside in one of his works, he noted his own “fleeting vain attempts” to resolve it.' The original is grammatical but unwieldy. Nov 21, 2023 at 12:59
  • I have added that , @Joachim , though somebody has marked it for closure saying there are too many Issues here : It is Single Issue here !
    – Prem
    Nov 21, 2023 at 14:46
  • I tried removing all the Parenthetical Elements , include that "aside" , @StuartF , though it was not working out. It will work out when I change that "aside" Parenthetical Element to a full stop.
    – Prem
    Nov 21, 2023 at 14:53

3 Answers 3

2

There is a sense, though, not to be left unremarked in a prologue, in which this book most properly belongs to Bernhard Riemann, who, in a short life blighted with much misfortune, gave to his fellow men so very, very much of everlasting value—including a problem that continues to vex them a century and a half after, in a characteristically diffident aside, he noted his own “fleeting vain attempts” to resolve it.

There is no problem in parsing this sentence before the last part ("in a characteristically… resolve it").

  • 1 There is a sense, though, not to be left unremarked in a prologue [main clause]
    • 2 in which [sense] this book most properly belongs to Bernhard Riemann [relative clause]

      • 3 who [Riemann], in a short life blighted with much misfortune, gave to his fellow men so very, very much of everlasting value—including a problem [relative clause (embedded in preceding relative)]

        • 4 that [problem] continues to vex them a century and a half after [relative clause (embedded in preceding relative)]

5 in a characteristically diffident aside, he noted his own “fleeting vain attempts” to resolve it.

It appears that it is the "fleeting vain attempts" that are made in a "diffident aside"; that is, the sentence cannot be read as "the "problem is given in a diffident aside". Somehow the adverbial "in a characteristically…" is too far from the verb "give" for it to apply to the clause of that verb. Moreover, here is what the author says in his work, "Prime Obsession" (p. 151).

The 1859 paper “On the Number of Prime Numbers Less Than a Given Quantity” was Bernhard Riemann’s only publication on number theory, and the only one of his productions that contained no geometrical ideas at all. The paper, though dazzling and seminal, was in some respects unsatisfactory. There was, first of all, the great Hypothesis, which Riemann left hanging in the air (where it still hangs). His actual words, after making a statement that is equivalent to the Hypothesis, were

One would, of course, like to have a rigorous proof of this, but I have put aside the search for such a proof after some fleeting vain attempts (einigen flücht igen vergeblichen Versuchen) because it is not necessary for the immediate objective of my investigation.

The aside is then within the paper consecrated by Riemann to the problem. In consequence, the clause "in a char… it" is really an extrapolated clause within the extrapolated prepositional phrase "including…"; however, embeddings of extrapolated elements within other extrtapolated elements are not in use in English; that is the sentence would never be written as follows (also, the second dash is ambiguous: it can be read as the end of the extrapolated prepositional phrase).

There is a sense, though, not to be left unremarked in a prologue, in which this book most properly belongs to Bernhard Riemann, who, in a short life blighted with much misfortune, gave to his fellow men so very, very much of everlasting value—including a problem that continues to vex them a century and a half after—in a characteristically diffident aside, he noted his own “fleeting vain attempts” to resolve it——.

The author's sentence is deficient then in respect of the punctuation of the last part. An alternative that would keep the whole of the sentence a self contained unit consist in making the separation less interruptive by replacing it by a comma, and then using the m-dash after "after".

There is a sense, though, not to be left unremarked in a prologue, in which this book most properly belongs to Bernhard Riemann, who, in a short life blighted with much misfortune, gave to his fellow men so very, very much of everlasting value, including a problem that continues to vex them a century and a half after— in a characteristically diffident aside, he noted his own “fleeting vain attempts” to resolve it.

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The parse is:

There is a sense, though, not to be left unremarked in a prologue, in which this book most properly belongs to Bernhard Riemann, who [, in a short life blighted with much misfortune,] gave to his fellow men so very, very much of everlasting value—including a problem that continues to vex them a century and a half after [,in a characteristically diffident aside,] he noted his own “fleeting vain attempts” to resolve it.

Without parentheticals:
There is a sense, though, not to be left unremarked in a prologue, in which this book most properly belongs to Bernhard Riemann who gave to his fellow men so very, very much of everlasting value—including a problem that continues to vex them a century and a half after he noted his own “fleeting vain attempts” to resolve it.

The sentence is fine.

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  • Thanks for taking the time !! I realize what you are saying. I want to restate my Issue like this : Will it be okay to write this ".... including a problem , for which he noted his own attempts" ?
    – Prem
    Nov 21, 2023 at 15:15
  • @Prem Why do that if it works the way it is? Anyway, you can't end it with "he noted his own attempts". :) You need the whole thing as I gave above. "after he noted" etc.
    – Lambie
    Nov 21, 2023 at 15:23
  • Oh boy, the dviers who are clueless. :)
    – Lambie
    Nov 21, 2023 at 15:58
  • Your "breakdown" doesn't work! Discard initial There is a sense ... in which, because so doing makes no difference to the syntactic validity of the remainder. Then, reversing your "bolding" for clarity, we've got This book most properly belongs to Bernhard Riemann, [who, in a short life blighted with much misfortune,] gave to his fellow men [a lot]. If we suppose the bolded text there is "parenthetical", we should be able to simply remove it. But This book most properly belongs to Bernhard Riemann gave to his fellow men [a lot] is garbage. Nov 21, 2023 at 16:39
  • @FumbleFingers I had left out the word "who", which I have now put in. This book most properly belongs to Bernhard Riemann who gave to his fellow men to his fellow men etc.
    – Lambie
    Nov 21, 2023 at 16:58
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The very last chunk should read

—including a problem that continues to vex them a century and a half after he had noted, in a characteristically diffident aside, his own “fleeting vain attempts” to resolve it.

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    I don't think the past perfect is really necessary.
    – Lambie
    Nov 22, 2023 at 17:13
  • @Lambie The absence of the past perfect there contributed to the parsing issues people have had but it is not grammatically necessary. Your own solution eliminates the parenthetical "in a characteristically diffident aside". Was that elimination "necessary"?
    – TimR
    Nov 22, 2023 at 18:11
  • I dunno, I think some people are just stubborn. :)
    – Lambie
    Nov 22, 2023 at 18:12

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