About the title

About the title

I changed the title of the blog on March 20, 2013 (it used to have the title “Notes of an owl”). This was my immediate reaction to the news the T. Gowers was presenting to the public the works of P. Deligne on the occasion of the award of the Abel prize to Deligne in 2013 (by his own admission, T. Gowers is not qualified to do this).

The issue at hand is not just the lack of qualification; the real issue is that the award to P. Deligne is, unfortunately, the best compensation to the mathematical community for the 2012 award of Abel prize to Szemerédi. I predicted Deligne before the announcement on these grounds alone. I would prefer if the prize to P. Deligne would be awarded out of pure appreciation of his work.

I believe that mathematicians urgently need to stop the growth of Gowers's influence, and, first of all, his initiatives in mathematical publishing. I wrote extensively about the first one; now there is another: to take over the arXiv overlay electronic journals. The same arguments apply.

Now it looks like this title is very good, contrary to my initial opinion. And there is no way back.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Graduate level textbooks I

Previous post: The role of the problems

Back in August Tamas Gabal asked me about my favorite graduate level textbooks in mathematics; later Ravi joined this request. I thought that the task will be very simple, but it turned out to be not. In addition, my teaching duties during the Fall term consumed much more energy than I could predict and even to imagine.

In this post I will try to explain why compiling a list of good books is so difficult. It is much easier to say from time to time “This book is great! You should read it.” Still, I will try to compile a list or lists of the books I like in the following post(s).

If one is looking for good collection of graduate level textbooks, there is no need to go further than the Springer series “Graduate Texts in Mathematics”. The books in the Springer “Universitext” series are more varied in their level (some are upper level undergraduate, others are research monographs), but one can find among them a lot of good textbooks. There is a more recent series “Graduate Studies in Mathematics” by the AMS. From my point of view, this series includes some excellent books, but is too varied both in terms of the level and in terms of quality. If you are looking for something on the border between an advanced graduate level textbook and a research monograph, the Cambridge University Press series “Cambridge Studies in Advanced Mathematics” is excellent. The bizarre economics and ideology of the modern scientific publishing resulted in the fact almost all good books in mathematics (including textbooks) is published by one of these 3 publishers: AMS, Springer, and Cambridge University Press. You will not miss much if will not go any further (but you will miss some book, certainly).

I cannot suggest a sequence of good books to study any sufficiently broad area, even not necessarily a sequence of my favorite books. If you want to be a research mathematician, you will have to learn a lot from bad books and badly written papers. It would do a lot of good for mathematics if afterwards you will write a good book about things you learned from badly written books and papers. Unfortunately, writing a book is not a really good idea at the early stages of the career of a mathematician nowadays. Expository writing is hardly valued. On the one hand, expository writing does not help to get grants and grants is the only thing valued by administrators at the level of deans and higher. It seems that the chairs of the mathematics departments started to follow this approach. Deans and chairs are the ones who have the last word in any hiring or promotion decision. Sometimes a mathematician is essentially forced to write a book in order to continue research. For example, the foundation of a theory may be absent from the literature, or some “known to everybody” results may require clarification. But this is rare.

Some freedom of what to do, in particular, the freedom to write books, arrives only with a tenured position. Still, a colleague of me gave me many years ago the following advise: “Do not write any books until you retire”. Right now I am not sure that any mathematical books will be written or used when I retire. I actually had abandoned a couple of projects because I don’t see any efficient and decent way to distribute mathematical books. I don’t think that charging $100.00 for a textbook is decent given that the cost of production is about $5.00—$20.00 per copy.

On the other hand, there is a lot of good textbook introducing into a particular sufficiently narrow branch of mathematics. It hardly make sense to list all of them. All this leads me to chosing “my favorite” as the guiding principle. And, after all, this is what Tamas Gabal asked me to do.

Next post: Graduate level textbooks II


  1. "Do not write any books until you retire"?! One is tempted to generalize to "do not do any mathematics until you retire". Or, indeed, to "do not do anything you find interesting, important or meaningful until you retire"...

    Gone are the days when Gian-Carlo Rota wrote "You are most likely to be remembered for your expository work" as one of his famous "Ten lessons I wish I had been taught". Not that I so much like this motivation, that is one's desire to have oneself remembered at any expence, but compared to people doing mathematics from the main motivation of getting tenure, grants, etc., it was, at least, leaving ground for some cautious hope. Presently I do not see any.