What better way to commemorate the bicentennial of Niels Henrik Abel's birth than to bring together a bunch of mathematicians to talk about his work and where it has led? The conference was held in Oslo in June of 2002, and coincided with the launch of the Abel Prize in Mathematics. There is no doubt that it was a grand event.
The book on The Legacy of Niels Henrik Abel is a result of the conference, but it is not your typical proceedings volume. Contributions to the book were solicited before the conference, and there is only partial overlap between the book's content and the talks given at the conference.
Several of the articles in the book are historical and/or biographical. Some, such as Arild Stubhaug's short account of the life of Abel, are mostly on the historical end of the spectrum. Others, such as Steven Kleiman's "What is Abel's Theorem Anyway?" are a blend of mathematics and history, inspecting four theorems that are often called "Abel's Theorem", looking at what Abel actually did, and looking at what came after. Several papers are straight mathematics connected, closely or distantly, to Abel's work. The result is a massive book with a lot of interesting material in it. About half of this material should be accessible to a wide audience; the other half will be of interest mostly to specialists.
With the book comes a CD-ROM containing still more material related to Abel and to the conference. In particular, one can find information on the Centennial Conference held in 1902 (including talks by Sylow and Picard), many pictures, reproductions of stamps, statues, and coins featuring Abel. There is information about the Abel Prize and about honorary doctorates granted at the celebration. There is even an ad for a special edition of Abel's collected works.
It's a delightful package, particularly for those of us who are interested in the history of mathematics and/or in number theory, algebraic geometry, and complex function theory. Just the images on the CD would make me want to have a copy. Given the size of this book and the extras on the CD, this isn't even very expensive; no library should be without a copy.
Fernando Q. Gouvêa is Professor of Mathematics at Colby College; he is the editor of MAA Reviews.