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Yesterday and Long Ago

V. I. Arnold
Springer Verlag
Publication Date: 
Number of Pages: 
[Reviewed by
David M. Bressoud
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This is a rambling collection of personal reminiscences and historical anecdotes. There is a lot of information about V. I. Arnold’s upbringing and family background, a number of interesting accounts of personal interactions with other mathematicians and scientists, and an odd assortment of semi-historical stories that the author has picked up during his lifetime.

The book is disappointing in that Arnold says almost nothing about the mathematics that has inspired him, and it is all a bit disorganized. Some of the stories appear more than once in slightly different versions. On page 8, we learn that his grandmother read an account of her own revolutionary activities in Pravda (or maybe Izvestiya) where it was reported that she had died long ago. On page 23 Arnold again tells us of his grandmother reading this story, but now it appeared in both Pravda and Izvestiya

The translation maintains a hint of the Russian in which it was originally written, which only serves to strengthen the impression that this is what one might imagine to hear during a long winter evening sitting at a kitchen table with Arnold as he recounts stories from his own life and interesting tales that others have told him. As such, it is a window into the life and personality of one of the great mathematicians of the 20th century.

David M. Bressoud is DeWitt Wallace Professor Mathematics at Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota.


Preface.- My first recollections.- The North-West direction.- Vera Stepanovna Arnold (née Zhitkova).- First scientific reminiscences.- The Arnold family.-A household library.- The axiomatic method.- The color of a meridian.- School years.- It is not easy to keep a secret.- The temple of science.- Who is the winner?- State examination on Marxism.- Goodwill.- The thermal conductivity equation.- Lavoisier and French mathematics during the Revolution.- Queen Eleanor, Rosamund, and labyrinth theory.- Place de Vogueses.- "Champel Sea".- Neutrinos, neutrons, and Bruno Pontecorvo.- From Pareto to Arzamas.- How to distinguish good and bad mathematical works.- The combinatorics of Plutarch.- Galilei.- The topology of surfaces according to Alexander of Macedon.- Snake-hunting.- Suputinskii nature reserve.- Pheasants of the Vincent forest.- The guillotine and Marie-Antoinette.- Damiens’s sufferings.- Queen Marguerite and the kingdom of law.- Jeanne d’Arc as a witch and as a saint.- Ravailliac, French cuisine, and traffic jams.- Anne Yaroslavna, Princess of Russia.- Gennady of Novgorod and education in Russia under Ivan III.- Catherine I and the Prut river campaign.- Catherine II and I.I.Betskoi.- An order of Catherine II.- Radishchev.- The Crimean war.- Princess Dashkova and parachutes.- The desecrated host and abstract algebra.- France – Guinea – India.- Julius Caesar and Gallians: protecting Rome from Germans.- A planning department.- Mountain lions over Stanford.- The Pocha river and the dog Shnura.- Hong Kong.- The Pongoma river and the Solovetskie islands.- Brazilian tours.- Leibnitz as Bourbaki’s predecessor.- The "Mistral" in the "Crown".- How academicians were elected and eliminated.- From the history of French economy.- The origins of mathematics: from Greece to Egypt.- Motivation for mathematical education in Israel.- Struggles against foreigners and their languages.- "Our Manchuria".- Religion and science, Martin Luther and anti-semitism.- Ramanujan and Hardy.- Catching a pike in Cambridge.- Locust swarming and relocation of deer.- Tamil Tigers at the Swiss consulate in Paris.- Picking cranberries.- The Yamal peninsula and digging caves in the snow.- Brain tomography, geometry, and algebra.- Inedible hares.- A question about the bitch of Rabinovitch.- The cemetery at Aksin’ino