viernes, 4 de noviembre de 2022

Apropos of negative reviews

«André Weil, spiritual leader of the IAS for many years, set a high standard. In 1973, Associate Professor Michael S. Mahoney of the History of Science Department at Princeton University had the temerity (or perhaps the bad luck) to write a biography of Pierre de Fermat (1601-1665). At that time, Weil had been studying the history of Fermat for some time. He had given a lecture series on the subject. The depth of his understanding was uncanny: Weil had actually figured out sequences of letters that had been sent, on what dates they were mailed and had arrived, and who was thinking what when. He fancied himself to be the pre-eminent Fermat scholar. And the new biography by his colleague down the road did not strike his fancy. Somehow it was arranged for Weil to review the book for the Bulletin of the AMS. Weil begins the published review by reminding us that "In order to write even a tolerably good book about Fermat, a modicum of abilities is required." He then lists these prerequisites:

  • Ordinary accuracy.
  • The ability to express simple ideas in plain English.
  • Some knowledge of French.
  • Some knowledge of Latin.
  • Some historical sense.
  • Some familiarity with the work of Fermat's contemporaries and of Fermat's own mathematics.
  • Knowledge of and sensitivity to mathematics.

André Weil then proceeds to consider each of these attributes one by one, and to demostrate--via annotated quotations from the book under review--that the author apparently possesses none of them.»

Steven G. Krantz, Mathematical apocrypha: stories and anecdotes of mathematicians and the mathematical. Published and distributed by the Mathematical Association of America, USA, 2002, pp. 51-52.

jueves, 27 de octubre de 2022

The "Verfasser" anecdote in Derbyshire's book on the prime obsession

«I don't think Landau's Handbuch has ever been translated into English. Number theorist Hugh L. Montgomery ... taught himself German by reading his way through the Handbuch, one finger on the dictionary. He tells the following story. The first 50-odd pages of the book are given over to a historical survey, in sections each of which is headed with the name of a great mathematician who made contributions in the field: Euclid, Legendre, Dirichlet, and so on. The last four of these sections are headed "Hadamard," "von Mangoldt," "de la Vallée Poussin," "Verfasser." Hugh was extremely impressed with the contributions of Verfasser, but was puzzled to know why he had not heard the name of this fine mathematician before. It was some time before he learned that "Verfasser" is a German word meaning "author" (ordinary nouns are capitalized in German).»

J. Derbyshire, Prime obsession: B. Riemann and the greatest unsolved problem in mathematics. Published by Plume (a member of Penguin Group), USA, 2003, pp. 231-232.