The intrinsic nature of things. The Life and Science of Cornelius Lanczos

Author(s): 
Barbara Gellai
Publisher: 
American Mathematical Society
Year: 
2010
ISBN: 
9780821851661
Short description: 

The author begins with a brief description of Hungary at the end of the XIX century and Lanczos’ family. Then she goes into the early works of Lanczos on Relativity and Quantum Mechanics. Then she writes about the american tour of Lanczos from Purdue University (Indiana) to Boeing in Seattle and the interest Lanczos paid to numerical and Fourier analysis. Finally, we learn about his come back to Europe at the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies, where he continued his research on Relativity and the Unified Field Theory.

MSC main category: 
01 History and biography
MSC category: 
01A60
Review: 

The author begins with a brief description of Hungary at the end of the XIX century and Lanczos’ family. Then she goes into the early works of Lanczos on Relativity and Quantum Mechanics. Then she writes about the american tour of Lanczos from Purdue University (Indiana) to Boeing in Seattle and the interest Lanczos paid to numerical and Fourier analysis. Finally, we learn about his come back to Europe at the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies, where he continued his research on Relativity and the Unified Field Theory.

The reader will find many curious things about Lanczos' private life, which are very useful to grasp that Lanczos was a humble person, involved with pedagogical questions on the teaching and learning of science and so we can read on the preface of his book “The variational principles of mechanics” the following:
“Many of the scientific treatises of today are formulated in a half-mystical language, as though to impress the reader with the uncomfortable feeling that he is in the permanent presence of a superman. The present book is conceived in a humble spirit and is written for humble people.”
Also H. Goldstein refers to that book in a manner which reflects the character of Lanczos. He say in his famous book “Classical Mechanics”:
“Lanczos has a different point of view (from the rest of the authors of mechanical treatises); he talks a lot and writes few equations”

On the other side, I miss some chapter dedicated to show and explain a little bit further the mathematical and physical work of Lanczos. Perhaps, it would be nice to have some formulas for trained readers, for instance, his description of the electromagnetic field with quaternions, or a much more deep explanation of his operator of quantum mechanics in contrast to the Schrodinger equation. Also some examples of his use of the Fast Fourier Transformation in numerical examples would be fine.
Nonetheless, she gives detailed references of the cites she uses throughout the book.

Ultimately, it is very pleasant to read as it is written in a very concise manner.

Reviewer: 
José L. Guijarro
Affiliation: 
Universidad Complutense Madrid

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