Alexander Grothendieck Biography

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  • Topic: Alexander Grothendieck, Homological algebra, Algebraic geometry
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Alexander Grothendieck

Alexander Grothendieck is a prominent mathematician who is well known for his theories in algebraic geometry, homological algebra and functional analysis. He was born in the capital of Germany, Berlin, in 1928, one year before the Wall Street Crash of 1929. Grothendieck’s parents were Sascha Shapiro and Hanka Grothendieck. Shapiro was a Russian anarchist of Jewish decent, prosecuted by the Czar and later by the Bolsheviks. He’d lost his left arm during an attempted prison escape. He fled Russia and survived as a street photographer. Hanka and Sascha, Alexander’s parents, met in anarchist’s circles, Hanka was married to a German journalist, but they still had an affair. Alexander Grothendieck was the fruit of this affair, Hanka divorced but his parents never married.

Until 1933, Alexander lived with his parents in Berlin. After that, his father moved to Paris, his mother followed him. They ended up leaving their son behind. A pastor took care of him and he attended school in Hamburg, his mother’s native town. Sascha Shapiro and Hanka Grothendieck participated in the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939). During World War II, Alexander and his parents were in France. Alexander remained hidden in a village, but his father, a Jew, was arrested and deported during the year 1942. He died at Auschwitz concentration camp, at the hands of the Nazis.

Alexander discovered mathematics during the war years, in a French secondary school. Once the war ended, he attended the University of Montpellier in the South of France, hoping to become a math teacher. A professor recognized his talent, and sent him to Paris in 1948. He stayed at a respected Normale Sup until 1950 before leaving for the University of Nancy where he wrote his dissertation under Laurent Schwartz. By 1953 he was considered an expert on topological vector spaces. In 1957 he began working on algebraic geometry.

The Institute des Hautes Études Scientifiques recruited Alexander...
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