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Driven to Innovate

A Century of Jewish Mathematicians and Physicists


Ioan James

Ioan James celebrates the extraordinary contribution made by Jewish people in mathematics and physics, from the mathematician Norbert Wiener, the founder of cybernetics, to distinguished nuclear physicist and Nobel Prize-winner Niels Bohr. He tells the life-stories of thirty-five men and women, born in the nineteenth century, who were at the forefront of research in the closely related fields of mathematics and physics, often in the face of various kinds of anti-Semitism.
Some were caught up in the trauma of the Nazi accession to power in Germany and the Second World War. Wolfgang Pauli, described as ‘greater than Einstein’ by his contemporary Max Born, became a German national following the Nazi annexation of Austria in 1938 but was able to escape to the United States for the duration of the war. Already hampered by anti-Semitism in his native Poland, logician and mathematician Alfred Tarski found himself stranded in the USA at the outbreak of war and did not see his wife and sons until the war’s end. The Italian mathematician Vito Volterra publicly opposed Mussolini’s Fascist regime at considerable personal risk. Others such as George Pólya and Emmy Noether found that their left-wing political beliefs hindered their careers.