The Wolf Prize in Mathematics is one of five or six annual prizes awarded by the Wolf Foundation, established in Israel “to promote science and art for the benefit of mankind.” The prizes are awarded in Agriculture, Chemistry, Mathematics, Medicine, Physics, and the Arts. The Wolf Prize usually is given for a lifetime of achievement.
This two-volume set (volume two is here) is in a very similar spirit to the same publisher’s Fields Medallists’ Lectures. Winners of the Wolf Prize are represented by a brief biographical note (sometimes just their curriculum vitae, sometimes a little more than that) and then by a set of papers chosen (when possible) by the winner. Some winners choose a set of short articles, while others opt for one long paper they feel is particularly significant. A note in volume two suggests that each winner was given 50 pages that could be filled in any way they wanted.
The books’ production leaves something to be desired. First of all, each winner’s section starts without any clear marker, usually with a curriculum vitae or some other biographical piece. Most of these feature the name of the person in question on their first page… but not all. When the name is missing, the reader is left somewhat bewildered. I would have expected a page giving the name of the winner and the date of the prize to separate each section from the surrounding ones.
In addition, most of the material is photographically reproduced from the original publication. Usually this is not a problem, but when, for example, Eilenberg is introduced via his obituary article from the Notices of the AMS, the text becomes very hard to read, simply because the pages of the Notices are much bigger than the pages of this book, and the reduction in size makes for very small print.
Nevertheless, much of the material here is worth having. Many of the articles are classics, and biographical information on living mathematicians can be hard to find. But one can’t help but feel that these volumes could have been much better.
Fernando Q. Gouvêa is Carter Professor of Mathematics at Colby College and is the editor of MAA Reviews.