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Mathematicians: An Outer View of the Inner World - Michèle Vergne

The Secret Life of Scientists and EngineersThe Secret Life of Scientists and Engineers

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Mariana Cook’s book Mathematicians: An Outer View of the Inner World was published by Princeton University Press in 2009 and is a remarkable collection of ninety-two photographic portraits featuring many of the most notable mathematicians of our time. Each photograph is accompanied by a brief personal essay either written by the mathematician or edited from an interview Cook conducted with him or her. For more information, please visit Mariana Cook’s website:

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5453_Vergne, Michele
Michèle Vergne - Photos and Text ©Mariana Cook “Mathematicians: An Outer View of the Inner World”

What did I do in my life as a mathematician? I could look at my list of publications and discuss some of my old results. However, the past counts for nothing. If I am not able to prove something new now, what I did before is worthless. So here I am, day after day, working for hours pursuing some infinitely distant goal.

I am trying to “understand.” I am not trying to discover something new, but rather see the “essential reasons” why some results are true, I return to the source, in an attempt to discover “the mother of all formulae.” Other mathematicians’ new ideas and results are irritating. I would desire very much to show that there is a simple reason why “all of that” is true (at least when I was young I had that arrogance).

Original funding for "The Secret Life of Scientists and Engineers" was provided by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.