Reviews elsewhere on the web:
Spectator.co.uk
Fortean Times
Rick Kleffel

Amir Aczel

The Artist and the mathematician

The Artist and the Mathematician: The Story of Nicolas Bourbaki, the Genius Mathematician Who Never Existed . Amir Aczel's book has a strange title, but then the story of Bourbaki is rather strange. Originally a joke, the Bourbaki name became a focus for updating the syllabus of mathematics in French universities, and eventually grew into a huge project to rewrite mathematics from the bottom up. As such it had great influence in the mathematical world, bringing a new sense of rigor to the way mathematics is done, as well as leading to initiatives such as New Math in the USA.

Aczel tells the stories of the various mathematicians who made up the Bourbaki group, such as André Weil, and Laurent Schwarz, but most of all the enigmatic Alexandre Grothendieck. The Second World War.played a significant part in the lives of these mathematicians, and the members of the group often had strong political views. Indeed the book emphasises the link between Bourbaki and the philosophy of Structuralism - how it emerged from Existentialism and in turn gave way to Postmodernism. Some readers might prefer a book which concentrates more on the mathematics, rather than ranging into linguistics, anthropology and art, but I felt that Aczel's work provides a useful overview of the development of various twentieth century philosophical movements.

Amazon.com info
Paperback 256 pages  
ISBN: 1568583591
Salesrank: 2407978
Weight:0.5 lbs
Published: 2007 Basic Books
Marketplace:New from $4.25:Used from $1.91
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Amazon.co.uk info
Paperback 256 pages  
ISBN: 1568583591
Salesrank: 6054006
Weight:0.5 lbs
Published: 2007 Thunder's Mouth Press
Marketplace::Used from £0.51
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Amazon.ca info
Paperback 256 pages  
ISBN: 1568583591
Salesrank: 1845891
Weight:0.5 lbs
Published: 2007 Basic Books
Marketplace:New from CDN$ 41.09:Used from CDN$ 0.01
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Product Description
Nicolas Bourbaki, whose mathematical publications began to appear in the late 1930s and continued to be published through most of the twentieth century, was a direct product as well as a major force behind an important revolution that took place in the early decades of the twentieth century that completely changed Western culture. Pure mathematics, the area of Bourbaki's work, seems on the surface to be an abstract field of human study with no direct connection with the real world. In reality, however, it is closely intertwined with the general culture that surrounds it. Major developments in mathematics have often followed important trends in popular culture; developments in mathematics have acted as harbingers of change in the surrounding human culture. The seeds of change, the beginnings of the revolution that swept the Western world in the early decades of the twentieth century — both in mathematics and in other areas — were sown late in the previous century. This is the story both of Bourbaki and the world that created him in that time. It is the story of an elaborate intellectual joke — because Bourbaki, one of the foremost mathematicians of his day — never existed.