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Nov 30 2011

Courant in Göttingen and New York: The Story of an Improbable Mathematician

Book: Courant in Göttingen and New York: The Story of an Improbable Mathematician*
Author: Constance Reid
Reviewer: Kerry S. Havner, Professor Emeritus of Civil Engineering (Solid Mechanics) and Materials Science & Engineering

As this notable, engagingly written work was published 35 years ago, perhaps it already will have been read by those who enjoy and seek out science biography and history. But if you’ve not, and have interest in the mathematical sciences – particularly application of mathematics and analysis, I highly recommend you read it. It of course is a biography of Richard Courant (1888-1972), and initially also a history of the great center for mathematics and theoretical physics developed in Göttingen from around 1900 until Jewish scientists had to flee Germany beginning soon after Hitler’s rise to power in 1933. From 1934, after Courant came to America, it becomes the story of (i) his development of the Institute for Mathematics and Mechanics at New York University and its evolution into the world famous Courant Institute of Mathematical Sciences, (ii) the extraordinary rise of American applied mathematics emanating from there (in particular mathematical physics and fluid mechanics), (iii) the beginnings of major federal support of the sciences (during and immediately following World War II), and finally (iv) the very early days of large-scale computing in America.

*A note from NCSU Libraries: This book was reissued in 1996 as Courant, which is the edition currently in print. The NCSU Libraries has several copies of the 1976 edition in its collection.