Men of Mathematics
Men of Mathematics is a book on the history of mathematics written in 1937 by the mathematician E. T. Bell. After a brief chapter on three ancient mathematicians, the remainder of the book is devoted to the lives of about forty mathematicians who worked in the seventeenth, eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The emphasis is on mainstream mathematics following on from the work.
To keep the interest of readers, the book typically focuses on unusual or dramatic aspects of its subjects' lives. Men of Mathematics has inspired many young people, including the young John Forbes Nash Jr. and Freeman Dyson, to become mathematicians. It is not intended as a rigorous history, includes many anecdotal accounts, and presents a somewhat idealised picture of mathematicians, their personalities, research and controversies.
- ...[Bell] was admired for his science fiction and his Men of Mathematics. I was shocked when, just a few years later, Walter Pitts told me the latter was nothing but a string of Hollywood scenarios; my own subsequent study of the sources has shown me that Pitts was right, and I now find the contents of that still popular book to be little more than rehashes enlivened by nasty gossip and banal or indecent fancy.
In the opinion of Ivor Grattan-Guinness the mathematics profession was poorly served by Bell's book:
- ...perhaps the most widely read modern book on the history of mathematics. As it is also one of the worst, it can be said to have done a considerable disservice to the profession.
- Right now he was reading E. T. Bell’s Men of Mathematics, which was the best yet, even though it had real mathematics in to slow him down. Some of these people sounded as if they had to be changelings, non-human visitors from some other sphere, with powers so prodigious they burst the boundaries of developmental psychology, lisping out profundities while other children were playing with their toes.
- Zeno (fifth century BC), Eudoxus (408–355 BC), Archimedes (287?–212 BC)
- Descartes (1596–1650)
- Fermat (1601–1665)
- Pascal (1623–1662)
- Newton (1642–1727)
- Leibniz (1646–1716)
- The Bernoullis (17th and 18th century)
- Euler (1707–1783)
- Lagrange (1736–1813)
- Laplace (1749 1827)
- Monge (1746–1818), Fourier (1768–1830)
- Poncelet (1788–1867)
- Gauss (1777–1855)
- Cauchy (1789–1857)
- Lobachevsky (1793–1856)
- Abel (1802–1829)
- Jacobi (1804–1851)
- Hamilton (1805–1865)
- Galois (1811–1832)
- Sylvester (1814–1897), Cayley (1821–1895)
- Weierstrass (1815–1897), Sonja Kowalewski [sic] (1850–1891)
- Boole (1815–1864)
- Hermite (1822–1901)
- Kronecker (1823–1891)
- Riemann (1826–1866)
- Kummer (1810–1893), Dedekind (1831–1916)
- Poincaré (1854–1912)
- Cantor (1845–1918)
Notes and references
- Truesdell, C. (1984). "Genius and the establishment at a polite standstill in the modern university: Bateman". An idiot's fugitive essays on science: methods, criticism, training, circumstances. Berlin: Springer-Verlag. pp. 423–4. ISBN 0-387-90703-3.
- Grattan-Guinness, Ivor (1971), "Towards a Biography of Georg Cantor", Annals of Science 27: 345–391, doi:10.1080/00033797100203837
- Quoted in the College Mathematics Journal 43(3):231 (May 2010)