Alexander Grothendieck 1928-2014

I just heard that Alexander Grothendieck passed away today, at the age of 86, in Saint-Girons. For a French news story, see here.

Grothendieck’s story was one of the great romantic stories of modern mathematics, and many would consider him the greatest mathematician of the twentieth century. For some blog entries about him here, see for example this and this. I’ll add other links as I see them or think of them.

Update: For some blog entries about Grothendieck’s recent life, you could start here.

One of the best places to learn about Grothendieck is from his friend Pierre Cartier, in an article that can be found here, among other places.

Le Monde now has an obituary.

Steve Landsburg has a blog post.

Update: The news about Grothendieck came out in the French press a day ago, but at this point the only things I’ve seen in the English-language press are an AP wire story, and this at the Independent. Come on science journalists, if any story about mathematics and mathematicians is worth writing about, this one is.

Update: There are now obituaries at the New York Times and the Telegraph. The IHES has a page at their website.

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27 Responses to Alexander Grothendieck 1928-2014

  1. MathPhys says:

    A great mathematician and a great man. Too sad.

  2. Pingback: Alexander Grothendieck (1928-2014) | Yellow Pigs

  3. Felipe Zaldivar says:

    Adieu Shourik!

  4. This are sad news. He had very unique personality, and was a great master of structure, intuition, poetry, and anarchy. But maybe his death and surrounding publicity can, ironically, stimulate translation of his works to English? In particular of Recoltes et semailles (only some small part of it was translated). There is an ongoing crowdfunding project of translation of his biography from German to English: Maybe a translation of Recoltes could be organised in the same way?

  5. SusanA says:

    One of the greatest–if not the greatest–mathematicians of the 20th century has died, yet the English media has not picked up on it.

  6. Winfried Scharlau says:

    Grothendieck has passed away, a great man and a great human being. I think it is a matter of respect and a matter of honesty to be very careful with statements about him. The internet is full with wrong, half-true, incomplete, sensational and misleading information about him. Do not believe everyting you read and check everything carefully.

    Winfried Scharlau

  7. CIP says:

    Thanks for this nice post Peter.

    Note though, that, as Cartier mentions, Grothendieck insisted on the spelling “Alexander” for his first name. A bit of political rebellion against the oppressively intrusive French State?

  8. Peter Woit says:

    Thanks. Given Cartier’s comment, I did change the spelling.

    I was somewhat tempted to leave the French version though, since it’s quite sad to see that so far virtually the only new coverage of his death is coming from the French press, where it’s a big story.

  9. XXM2212 says:

    The point is that only a few mathematicians can really connect to his work .
    He was the purest form of mathematicians ,the best mathematician in the 20th century no doubt about it .
    It would take world leading mathematicians to talk about his maths,for every mathematician it would be the same as some child talking about seashells ,fantasmagoric divination.
    The truth is that what distinguishes him is that he answers the Why questions , mathematicians live in a universe which is bounded in the same manner the physical world at some era ,R.Feynman talked about this impossibility in physics. But in maths it is possible … the why is generally untouchable
    His maths reflect the universe .

  10. laboussoleermonpays says:

    The last forty years of Grothendieck’s life were a long goodbye to mathematics but his “broken dream […] to develop a theory of motives” (to quote P. Cartier in his famous article “A mad day’s work…”) seems to me a silent hello to physics thanks to the works of Kontsevitch and Connes…

    And here is his forecast about a unification theory :
    <blockquote cite=
    […] Toujours est-il que de trouver un modèle “satisfaisant” […], que celui-ci soit “continu”, “discret” ou de nature “mixte” — un tel travail mettra en jeu sûrement une grande imagination conceptuelle, et un art consommé pour appréhender et mettre à jour des structures mathématiques de type nouveau. Ce genre d'imagination ou de “flair” me semble chose rare, non seulement parmi les physiciens […], mais même parmi les mathématiciens (et là je parle en pleine connaissance de cause). Pour résumer, je prévois que le renouvellement attendu (s’il doit encore venir…) viendra plutôt d’un mathématicien dans l’âme ; bien informé des grands problèmes de la physique, que d’un physicien . Mais surtout, il y faudra un homme ayant “l’ouverture philosophique” pour saisir le nœud du problème. Celui-ci n’est nullement de nature technique, mais bien un problème fondamental de “philosophie de la nature
    in Récoltes et semailles
    (Chapitre 2. Promenade à travers une œuvre ou l’Enfant et la Mère. § 2.20. Coup d’œil chez les voisins d’en face, p. 80 (transcription d’Yves Pocchiola))

  11. laboussoleermonpays says:

    English translation* of the last Grothendieck’s quote from “Harvests and Seeds”
    <blockquote cite=
    It nevertheless remains true that the finding of a ‘satisfactory’ model […] – whether this model was ‘continuous’, ‘discrete’ or of a ‘mixed’ nature – would require a great conceptual imagination, and a consummate art for apprehending and updating mathematical structures of a new type. This kind of imagination or ‘flair’ is rare indeed, not only amongst physicists (Einstein and Schrödinger seem to be notable exceptions), but even amongst mathematicians (and there I am speaking in full knowledge of the facts).
    To sum up, I predict that the long-awaited renewal (if it is still coming…) will come from a born mathematician well-informed about the big questions of physics rather than from a physicist. But above all, we will need a man with the kind of ‘philosophical openness’ necessary to take hold of the heart of the problem. This problem is by no means a technical one, but is rather a fundamental question of ‘natural philosophy’.

  12. A. Weil says:

    Here is a wonderful biography of Grothendieck by Pierre Cartier:

  13. MysteriousFunctor says:

    black fire on white fire…salut

  14. Amir Aczel says:

    Winfried Scharlau, I am impressed that you were able to find him some years ago. He must have told you some interesting things; he wasn’t communicating with many people by that time. I hope he had a pleasant “retirement.”

  15. Florian Robl says:


  16. Neil says:

    Sad. A truly great, great mathematician. I hope Grothendieck did not burn all his papers as, I believe, he one time threatened to do. What a loss that would be.

  17. Bill says:

    Alexandre Grothendieck in his own handwriting.

  18. Als says:

    French television went to Lassere, the village where Grothendieck spend the last decades of his life:

    I’m bit shocked by the complete lack of reaction in the US media.

  19. Reza says:

    Dear Als

    Thanks for putting the address of this video in your comment.
    Grothendieck wanted to be alone and I think he recived his gift.

  20. Thomas says:

    Peter, unsolicited advice: why don’t you contribute to cover this yourself in the US media, by writing a piece, for e.g. the Wall Street Journal ?

  21. Pingback: Décès d’Alexandre Grothendieck | Actumaths

  22. David Appell says:

    It is not so easy trying to explain modern mathematics to the public. Several years ago I tried to cover the 2002 Field Medals for I was so frustrated I ended up taking a completely different angle:

    “Math = beauty + truth / (really hard),” Salon, September 5, 2002.

    Several people have told me they like it, including an editor at Forbes, and one persobn saying it was the best article about mathematics she’d ever read. (But she wasn’t a mathematician.)

  23. Richard says:


    Brilliance and bizarrerie —
    Inextricably intertwined:
    No subject that he plumbed
    Took the measure of his mind.
    A soul forever questing
    For the Great Beyond —
    A heart forever testing
    The limits of despond.

  24. suzanna says:

    I was surprsied that the BBC did not pick up on this and still hasn’t! The only English press that has finally covered this is the Telegraph on 14th Nov. I myself only heard of Alexander Grothendiek through one of Peter Woit’s recent blogs (i work in a completely different scientific field). I got intrigued by the fact that a genius can abandon his amazing career. it became clear to me that this guy was not only a pure mathematecian but also carried his purity of reasoning to other areas of life from scientific funding issues to the environment and the human condition. ok, maybe some describe his reaction to scientific corruption and social injustices as insanity but actually it’s totally admirable and inspiring to all kinds of scientists.

  25. Mathematician says:

    Are there any mathematical notes or manuscripts that can now become available to be examined by experts?

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