Parcours de mathématiciens

Robin Ryder gave me a book to read last week: “Parcours de mathématiciens” by Philippe Pajot, who is a journalist in the vulgarisation journal La Recherche. The book is in fact a series of interviews of twelve French mathematicians with the same canvas: vocation, training, mathematical discoveries, mentors, current state of mathematics, plus an insert or two on a favourite piece of art. The book is part of a series “Comment je suis devenu…” (how I became…), whose aim is to induce new vocations through examples. It is enjoyable because it covers the careers of (mostly) impressive mathematicians, however it lacks the strength of true autobiographies like Laurent Schwartz‘s or the older Hardy’s Apology. Selecting twelve personalities from the French mathematical community is obviously a journalistic reduction, but it is interesting to spot some common features in most of their careers: an overwhelming part had teachers or researchers in their close family, a similar proportion went to Ecole Normale or Polytechnique (with Benoît Mandelbrot resigning from Normale to enter Polytechnique, in reaction against the Bourbakism of the time!), half of them got positions in CNRS at some point, five are or were involved in vulgarisation (Jean-Paul Delahaye regularly contributes to La Recherche and Pour la Science, Denis Guedj wrote a dozen novels relating to mathematics, including the popular Parrot’s Theorem [an dramatised history of mathematics which starts  on the wrong foot by excluding statistics, because "it was too empirical to be a subsection of maths."]) and most are (rightly) worried about the decrease in the number of math students in France and elsewhere (the four didacticians in the group blaming the way mathematics are taught in primary and secondary schools).

5 Responses to “Parcours de mathématiciens”

  1. [...] the decimal part  of a transform of X may still have one… Jean-Paul Delahaye (mentioned in Parcours de mathématiciens) also has an updated 1990 survey about Martin-Löf’s definition of randomness, a notion I [...]

  2. Спасибо за интересную статью! :)

  3. [...] interviewer was Philippe Pajot who wrote “Parcours de mathématiciens”, reviewed in a recent post.) The interview is reproduced on Robin’s blog (in French) and gives in a few words the [...]

  4. J’ai ecrit ce billet il y a plus de trois ans (avec beaucoup de fautes, c’etait et cela reste difficile d’ecrire en francais).

    Influence des Chercheurs Francais: La derniere generation

    j’ai rajoute plusieurs references plus nouvelles ainsi que des liens plus recents. Ce n’est pas un avis pessimiste, mais plutot un argument pour une revisite de certains modeles.

    • This is still very relevant, thanks! The graduate system is the weakest part of the French academic system because it is addressing future professionals (the majority) as well as future researchers (the minority) and hence cannot dedicate a sufficient amount of space for research… See my recent excitement at MASDOC

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