This book is a collection of material about the life of mathematician extraordinaire Israel Gohberg. As such, there is very little mathematics; it opens with a brief autobiography, a short piece by his children, Gohberg’s curriculum vitae, the list of his publications and then a list of his graduate students. The remainder consists of items such as brief summaries of his work, dinner speeches, recollections, biographies and reminiscences by his friends, collaborators and colleagues.
Born in Rumania and raised in the Soviet Union, Gohberg experienced first-hand the intense yet fluctuating anti-Semitism that existed in the Soviet Union. Professors and universities were assigned quotas of Jewish students and when that quota was met, the quality of your mathematics was irrelevant.
Gohberg’s father disappeared forever into the Gulag of Stalin when he was young and his family had to flee thousands of miles to the east to avoid being swallowed up in the Holocaust when Germany and her allies invaded the Soviet Union in 1941. However, none of this early and late trauma made even an epsilon’s difference in Gohberg’s mathematical performance. His list of publications has 458 entries and he supervised 40 students who were granted a doctorate. He was allowed to immigrate to Israel in 1974, having become a member of the group of Soviet citizens called “refuseniks.”
Gohberg is certainly one of the most productive and impressive mathematical personalities of the modern age. While this book provides few mathematical specifics of his accomplishments, the extensive glimpse into his life and personality make it clear that he was also a man of grace, kindness and integrity.
Charles Ashbacher splits his time between consulting with industry in projects involving math and computers, teaching college classes and co-editing The Journal of Recreational Mathematics. In his spare time, he reads about these things and helps his daughter in her lawn care business.