James Joseph Sylvester: Life and Work in Letters

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Clarendon Press, Oct 1, 1998 - Biography & Autobiography - 321 pages
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In the folklore of mathematics, James Joseph Sylvester (1814-1897) is the eccentric, hot-tempered, sword-cane-wielding, nineteenth-century British Jew who, together with the taciturn Arthur Cayley, developed a theory and language of invariants that then died spectacularly in the 1890s as a result of David Hilbert's groundbreaking, `modern' techniques. This, like all folklore, has some grounding in fact but owes much to fiction. The present volume brings together for the first time 140 letters from Sylvester's correspondence in an effort to establish the true picture. It reveals - through the letters as well as through the detailed mathematical and historical commentary accompanying them - Sylvester the friend, man of principle, mathematician, poet, professor, scientific activist, social observer, traveller. It also provides a detailed look at Sylvester's thoughts and thought processes as it shows him acting in both personal and professional spheres over the course of his eighty-two year life. The Sylvester who emerges from this analysis - unlike the Sylvester of the folkloric caricature - offers deep insight into the development of the technical and social structures of mathematics.
 

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Contents

Negotiating the Worlds Slippery Path I
1
Laying the Foundation of a Theory of Invariants
23
Battling the Authorities and the Muses
80
Ending and Beginning a Career
136
Moulding the Mathematical Education of 55 Mil
156
Returning Home
236
Bibliography
286
Index
313
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About the author (1998)

Karen Hunger Parshall is at University of Virginia.

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