Academic journal article Mathematics and Computer Education

The Artist and the Mathematician: The Story of Nicolas Bourbaki, the Genius Mathematician Who Never Existed

Academic journal article Mathematics and Computer Education

The Artist and the Mathematician: The Story of Nicolas Bourbaki, the Genius Mathematician Who Never Existed

Article excerpt

THE ARTIST AND THE MATHEMATICIAN: THE STORY OF NICOLAS BOURBAKI, THE GENIUS MATHEMATICIAN WHO NEVER EXISTED by Amir D. Aczel Thunder's Mouth Press, New York, 2006, 239 pp. ISBN: 1-56025-931-0

While Nicolas Bourbaki is long dead (or in another sense, never lived), he (or in another sense, they) significantly influenced not only the principal field of mathematics but also indirectly influenced other areas such as art, science, literature, and social science. The author argues that Bourbaki was one of the most influential and far-reaching cultural movements of the 20th century. This book presents, in detail, the interesting lives of many of the people (mostly mathematicians) involved in the movement. The book also provides the underlying principles of Bourbaki mathematics and how these principles then influenced other elements of culture. The basis of this movement was in its formalism and emphasis on structure as summed up in a quote in the book from mathematical historian Denis Guedj: "Animated by a profound faith in the unity of mathematics, and wishing to be 'universal mathematicians,' Bourbaki undertook to derive the whole of the mathematical universe from a single starting point." Their starting point was the topic of set theory. They even advocated the use of the singular form mathematic in order to show the unity of the subject.

Aczel tells the fascinating story of how this group of mathematicians, passionate for change and improvement in the pedagogy and principles of mathematics, created the character of Nicolas Bourbaki, including his origin and background. Fooling others for many years into thinking that Bourbaki was a real person, they then used this fictitious person to lead an entire movement encompassing new ideas, innovative research papers, a complete syllabus of instruction, numerous books, and a myriad of exciting meetings. …

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