The Scholar and the State: In Search of Van der Waerden by Alexander Soifer

By Alexander Soifer

Bartel Leendert van der Waerden made significant contributions to algebraic geometry, summary algebra, quantum mechanics, and different fields. He liberally released at the heritage of arithmetic. His 2-volume paintings sleek Algebra is among the such a lot influential and renowned mathematical books ever written. it's consequently dazzling that no monograph has been devoted to his lifestyles and paintings. Van der Waerden’s list is advanced. In trying to comprehend his existence, the writer assembled millions of files from a variety of records in Germany, the Netherlands, Switzerland and the USA which published interesting and sometimes fabulous new information regarding van der Waerden. Soifer strains Van der Waerden’s early years in a relations of serious Dutch public servants, his existence as professor in Leipzig throughout the complete Nazi interval, and his own friendship with one of many nice physicists Werner Heisenberg. We come across heroes and villains and a way more quite a few staff in among those extremes. one among them is the topic of this book.

Soifer’s trip via an extended checklist of documents, mixed with a thorough correspondence, had exposed various information of Van der Waerden’s German intermezzo that raised critical questions and reproaches.

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467 Chapter 1 Greetings to the Reader: What Is History? The past is never dead. It’s not even past. —William Faulkner3 Life travels upward in spirals. He who takes pains to search the shadows of the past below us, then, can better judge the tiny arc up which he climbs, more surely guess the dim curves of the future above him. —Stefan Zweig4 He alone reads history aright who, observing how powerfully circumstances influence the feelings and opinions of men, how often vices pass into virtues and paradoxes into axioms, learns to distinguish what is accidental and transitory in human nature from what is essential and immutable.

May I ask if he could call you in this regard? Thank you very much in advance. This letter of introduction must have been very important to Van der Waerden, for in his ETH (Eidgeno¨ssische Technische Hochschule, Z€ urich) archive, I found both Brouwer’s original and a few copies in Van der Waerden’s handwriting. Brouwer, who appeared so self-centered to so many colleagues, actually shows almost motherly care for young Bartel 28 ETH, Hs 652 10563, 10563a, and 10563b. 30 4 The Joys of Young Bartel when he tries to get him the Rockefeller (International Education Board, or IEB for short) fellowship.

The younger generation of mathematicians has been trained to consider the product, mathematics, as the most important thing, and to think of the people who produced it only as names attached to theorems. This frequently makes for a rather dry subject matter. Starting with my 1990 book, How Does One Cut a Triangle? and especially in writing The Mathematical Coloring Book, I attempted to not 12 2 Why Van der Waerden and Why Me? just avoid creating more of “a rather dry subject matter,” and not just intertwine mathematics and history.

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