Saturday, 28 March 2015

The Apprenticeship of a Mathematician by Andre Weil

Great men write great books. Andre Weil was a great man, and he wrote many great books. The Apprenticeship of a Mathematician is one such book which I had the pleasure of reading recently. And I was very much moved by this book, which is a memoir of his early life from the time of his birth till the end of the World War II. Weil's standing as a mathematician extraordinaire is without question and I can hardly add anything of value about his work, being myself just a beginner. But his life itself was also extraordinary to say the least.

Weil was a student at Ecole Normale, one of France's most prestigous schools of learning and then become porfessor of mathematics at Aligarh Muslim University (India), Strasbourg, Sao Paolo, Chicago and finally the Institute of Advanced Study. The book is about his life through his apprenticeship as a mathematician, how he made important discoveries in his early life and how he spent a few months in prison during the outbreak of the second World War. He describes the events as best as his memory serves him and uses very little mathematics. The book is meant primarily for anyone with a tangential interest in mathematics and is extremely well written.

Weil also describes in great details his nurturing of the famous fictional mathematician Nicolas Bourbaki, whose mathematical texts, every mathematics student worth his name has at one point in time taken a peek into and come out all the wiser. I really enjoyed reading this book and I had longed to read it for a long time now. In fact since the time I tried reading Weil's classic 'Basic Number Theory', I have wanted to read his memoir. And needless to say I was not disappointed. Fortunately for me, in the last one year or so, I have picked up enough mathematics to move on to some of other classic books written by Weil, and I plan to follow this book by first reading the history of Bourbaki from a book that I have borrowed from the library and then follow it up with Weil text on Algebraic Geometry which really laid the foundations of the subject.

This blog is not the right medium to transmit Weil's mathematical thoughts, maybe I would do so in a separate blog someday. But I would just end by saying that India lost a really great mathematician due to petty politics in the Aligarh Muslim University and Weil had to leave India after just two years of service there.