A History in Sum: 150 Years of Mathematics at Harvard, by Shing-Tung Yau, Steve Nadis

By Shing-Tung Yau, Steve Nadis

Within the 20th century, American mathematicians started to make serious advances in a box formerly ruled by way of Europeans. Harvard's arithmetic division was once on the heart of those advancements. A background in Sum is an inviting account of the pioneers who trailblazed a fantastically American culture of mathematics--in algebraic geometry and topology, advanced research, quantity idea, and a number of esoteric subdisciplines that experience hardly been written approximately open air of magazine articles or complicated textbooks. The heady mathematical recommendations that emerged, and the boys and girls who formed them, are defined right here in vigorous, obtainable prose.

The tale starts in 1825, while a precocious sixteen-year-old freshman, Benjamin Peirce, arrived on the university. He may develop into the 1st American to supply unique mathematics--an ambition frowned upon in an period while professors mostly restricted themselves to educating. Peirce's successors--William Fogg Osgood and Maxime Bôcher--undertook the duty of remodeling the mathematics division right into a world-class learn middle, attracting to the college such luminaries as George David Birkhoff. Birkhoff produced a blinding physique of labor, whereas education a new release of innovators--students like Marston Morse and Hassler Whitney, who cast novel pathways in topology and different components. Influential figures from world wide quickly flocked to Harvard, a few overcoming nice demanding situations to pursue their elected calling.

A background in Sum elucidates the contributions of those amazing minds and makes transparent why the background of the Harvard arithmetic division is an important a part of the heritage of arithmetic in the US and beyond.

Editorial Reviews
This publication tells the story of ways arithmetic built at Harvard--and by way of extension within the United States--since early days. it really is packed with attention-grabbing tales approximately a few of the mythical names of recent arithmetic. either fanatics of arithmetic and readers considering the historical past of Harvard will get pleasure from it. (Edward Witten, Professor of Physics, Institute for complex Study)

A background in Sum is a gorgeous tribute to a gorgeous topic, person who illuminates arithmetic in the course of the lens of a few of its so much amazing practitioners. The authors' love of arithmetic shines via each bankruptcy, as they use obtainable and lively language to explain a wealth of heady insights and the all-too-human tales of the minds that chanced on them. there's probably no higher e-book for immersion into the curious and compelling historical past of mathematical suggestion. (Brian Greene, Professor of arithmetic & Physics, Columbia University)

The e-book is written in a leisurely type, the scope is remarkably extensive, and the themes coated are defined astonishingly good. as soon as i began the ebook, I easily couldn't positioned it down and that i used to be ecstatic to simply comprehend vital arithmetic faraway from my very own study pursuits. (Joel Smoller, Professor of arithmetic, college of Michigan)

A historical past in Sum encompasses a wealth of fine tales, tales that visit the center of the advance of arithmetic during this state. The authors reach humanizing and enlivening what may rather be a dry therapy of the topic. (Ron Irving, Professor of arithmetic, college of Washington)

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Extra info for A History in Sum: 150 Years of Mathematics at Harvard, 1825-1975

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Although Johns Hopkins was the first university of its kind in the United States, Peirce and his Lazzaroni friends had dreamed of creating just such an institution around 1850 or so. In their fantasies, however, the new university was to reside in Albany, New York, rather than in Baltimore, Maryland, but those plans never materialized. The establishment of Johns Hopkins, a quarter of a century later, was widely seen as an important step in the advancement of American mathematics, though it produced a temporary setback for Harvard’s fledgling graduate program as the new university started attracting many of the best graduate students.

S. Coast Survey. S. ”56 Before discussing Hamilton’s work on quaternions and the effect it had on Peirce, it is worth saying a few words about algebra in general and how it began to change, and open up, in the early nineteenth century. That is when British mathematicians began transforming mathematics from the “science of quantity” to a much more liberalized and abstract system of thought. 57 Hamilton carried this a step further by introducing complex numbers into his algebra. Complex numbers assume the form of a + bi, where a and b are real numbers and i, the square root of −1, is an imaginary number.

6 In this way, Peirce was exposed from an early age to mathematics more advanced than could be found in any American curriculum— writings that other undergraduates simply were not privy to. Scholars have speculated that the excitement of reading and mastering Laplace’s work may have drawn Peirce to mathematical research. It is evident that Laplace’s writings made a deep impression on him. Decades later, in the pre-Civil War era, a student told Peirce that he risked incarceration for helping to rescue a runaway slave; the only consolation about being locked up in prison, the student said, was that he would finally have time to read Laplace’s magnum opus.

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