Synopses & Reviews
Nicolas Bourbaki, whose mathematical publications began to appear in the late 1930s and continued to be published through most of the twentieth century, was a direct product as well as a major force behind an important revolution that took place in the early decades of the twentieth century that completely changed Western culture.
Pure mathematics, the area of Bourbaki's work, seems on the surface to be an abstract field of human study with no direct connection with the real world. In reality, however, it is closely intertwined with the general culture that surrounds it. Major developments in mathematics have often followed important trends in popular culture; developments in mathematics have acted as harbingers of change in the surrounding human culture.
The seeds of change, the beginnings of the revolution that swept the Western world in the early decades of the twentieth century (both in mathematics and in other areas) were sown late in the previous century. This is the story both of Bourbaki and the world that created him in that time. It is the story of an elaborate intellectual joke: because Bourbaki, one of the foremost mathematicians of his day, never existed.
Review
"Lay readers interested in mathematical history will learn a lot they didn't know from Aczel's latest book, which focuses on a group of French mathematicians who in the 1930s decided to publish their collective work under an imaginary name. But readers may also get the feeling that this able math and science popularizer is running out of suitable topics. It's not that the contributions of the Bourbaki school weren't important their rigorous approach to proofs and emphasis on set theory provided the basis for what became known as the New Math it's just that this curious story isn't as inherently dramatic as, say, that of Andrew Wiles's solving Fermat's Last Theorem. Aczel surveys with his usual panache the careers of some major members of the group, like the eccentric Alexandre Grothendieck, who in 1991 became a hermit in the Pyrenees, but Aczel is less convincing when he draws simplistic parallels between advances in mathematics and modern art. While always readable, this diffuse narrative (including chapters on Bourbaki's influence on anthropology and linguistics) strains to pull its disparate parts into a satisfactory whole." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
Review
"While a competing collection (Reviews, July 31) found the majority of its articles in mainstream publications like the New Yorker, guest editor Greene (The Elegant Universe) sticks to the fundamentals in the seventh volume of Houghton's science anthology. In line with his belief that scientific literacy is increasingly vital to full participation in contemporary culture, Greene draws heavily from the scientific press six selections come from Scientific American alone. These articles lay out the facts about topics like lupus and the nature of mass with admirable clarity, but can fall short of the excitement level in other pieces that have a more personal touch. John Hockenberry, for example, shows how blogging technology has radically changed the way U.S. soldiers fighting in Iraq communicate with friends, family and even total strangers, while Mark Dowie thoughtfully considers how environmentalist zeal threatens to disrupt indigenous communities. Other writers focus on the compelling stories of individual scientists, from Drake Bennett's profile of 'the godfather of Ecstasy' to Oliver Sacks's memories of his lively correspondence with Francis Crick, the co-discoverer of DNA." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
Review
"Lay readers interested in mathematical history will learn a lot they didn't know from Aczel's latest book, which focuses on a group of French mathematicians who in the 1930s decided to publish their collective work under an imaginary name. But readers may also get the feeling that this able math and science popularizer is running out of suitable topics. It's not that the contributions of the Bourbaki school weren't important their rigorous approach to proofs and emphasis on set theory provided the basis for what became known as the New Math it's just that this curious story isn't as inherently dramatic as, say, that of Andrew Wiles's solving Fermat's Last Theorem. Aczel surveys with his usual panache the careers of some major members of the group, like the eccentric Alexandre Grothendieck, who in 1991 became a hermit in the Pyrenees, but Aczel is less convincing when he draws simplistic parallels between advances in mathematics and modern art. While always readable, this diffuse narrative (including chapters on Bourbaki's influence on anthropology and linguistics) strains to pull its disparate parts into a satisfactory whole." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
Review
"A fascinating topic." Kirkus Reviews
Synopsis
This is the story both of Nicolas Bourbaki whose mathematical publications began to appear in the late 1930s and continued to be published through most of the 20th century and the world that created him in that time. It is the story of an elaborate intellectual joke, because Bourbaki, one of the foremost mathematicians of his day, never existed.
About the Author
Dr. Aczel is Associate Professor of Statistics at Bentley College in Waltham, MA.