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By Constance Reid

"...a tale of serious mathematicians and their achievements, of functional successes and screw ups, and of human perfidy and generosity...this is likely one of the nonetheless too infrequent events during which mathematicians are proven as frail, flesh-and-blood creatures...a very precious book." -CHOICE

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The boy's mother finally slapped him and threw him out of the house. It was a cold, wet day. Courant never forgot-this he told me-how he found himself lying in the mud with a tiny gold piece in his hand, the first money he had ever earned. In spite of this initial pedagogical failure, he soon got other tutoring jobs, becoming quickly more patient and more effective. He tried to follow the example of one of his gymnasium teachers, a man named Erich 8 1888-1907 Maschke, who was an exponent of the "Socratic method" of leading students to discovery on their own.

Karl Schwarzschild, the astronomer, made contributions to both theoretical and observational astronomy as well as to quantum mechanics and relativity theory. Ludwig Prandtl, 25 Courant the mechanical genius, developed the mathematical formulation of boundary-layer and airfoil theory. Zermelo, the logician, did his first mathematical work in the calculus of variations and made important contributions to kinetic gas theory. This general interaction of theory and practice was always to be for Courant the distinguishing characteristic of the Gottingen scientific tradition.

It seemed clear that because of the positive character of the integral it would assume a minimum; and thus the existence of the desired surface-and hence a solution of the equation-was considered to be established. In the lectures of Dirichlet, who succeeded Gauss in Gottingen, the young Riemann became acquainted with this reasoning. Impressed-as Courant said-"by its elegant simplicity and what seemed to him its inherent truth," Riemann utilized the same reasoning for the proof of a 29 Courant number of the fundamental theorems of geometric function theory and the theory of Abelian functions.

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