The Scholar and the State: In Search of Van der Waerden

  • Alexander Soifer

Table of contents

  1. Front Matter
    Pages i-xxix
  2. Alexander Soifer
    Pages 1-4
  3. Alexander Soifer
    Pages 5-13
  4. Alexander Soifer
    Pages 15-25
  5. Alexander Soifer
    Pages 27-32
  6. Alexander Soifer
    Pages 33-37
  7. Alexander Soifer
    Pages 39-46
  8. Alexander Soifer
    Pages 47-49
  9. Alexander Soifer
    Pages 51-54
  10. Alexander Soifer
    Pages 55-57
  11. Alexander Soifer
    Pages 67-80
  12. Alexander Soifer
    Pages 81-95
  13. Alexander Soifer
    Pages 97-105
  14. Alexander Soifer
    Pages 107-111
  15. Alexander Soifer
    Pages 113-139
  16. Alexander Soifer
    Pages 141-151
  17. Alexander Soifer
    Pages 153-157
  18. Alexander Soifer
    Pages 159-170
  19. Alexander Soifer
    Pages 171-179

About this book


Bartel Leendert van der Waerden made major contributions to algebraic geometry, abstract algebra, quantum mechanics, and other fields. He liberally published on the history of mathematics. His 2-volume work Modern Algebra is one of the most influential and popular mathematical books ever written. It is therefore surprising that no monograph has been dedicated to his life and work. Van der Waerden’s record is complex. In attempting to understand his life, the author assembled thousands of documents from numerous archives in Germany, the Netherlands, Switzerland and the United States which revealed fascinating and often surprising new information about van der Waerden. Soifer traces Van der Waerden’s early years in a family of great Dutch public servants, his life as professor in Leipzig during the entire Nazi period, and his personal and professional friendship with one of the great physicists Werner Heisenberg. We encounter heroes and villains and a much more numerous group in between these two extremes. One of them is the subject of this book.


Soifer’s journey through a long list of archives, combined with an intensive correspondence, had uncovered numerous details of Van der Waerden’s German intermezzo that raised serious questions and reproaches.

Dirk van Dalen (Philosophy, Utrecht University)

Professor Soifer’s book implicates the anthropologists’ and culture historians’ core interest in the evolution of culture and in the progress of human evolution itself on this small contested planet.

James W. Fernandez (Anthropology, University of Chicago)

The book is fascinating.  Professor Soifer has done a great service to the discipline of history, as well as deepening our understanding of the 20th century. 

Peter D. Johnson, Jr. (Mathematics, Auburn University)

This book is an important contribution to the history of the twentieth century, and reads like a novel with an ever-fascinating cast of characters.  

Harold W. Kuhn (Mathematics, Princeton University)

This is a most impressive and important book. It is written in an engaging, very personal style and challenges the reader’s ability of moral and historical judgment. While it is not always written in the style of ‘objective’ professional historiography, it satisfies very high standards of scholarly documentation. Indeed the book contains a wealth of source material that allows the reader to form a highly detailed picture of the events and personalities discussed in the book. As an exemplar of historical writing in a broader sense it can compete with any other historical book.

Moritz Epple (History of Mathematics, Frankfurt University) 


Nazi Germany Van der Waerden Werner Heisenberg World War II abstract algebra algebraic geometry biography cultural anthropology history of culture history of mathematics history of physics intellectual history political science

Authors and affiliations

  • Alexander Soifer
    • 1
  1. 1.College of Letters, Arts, and SciencesUniversity of Colorado at Colorado SpringsColorado SpringsUSA

Bibliographic information

  • DOI
  • Copyright Information Alexander Soifer 2015
  • Publisher Name Birkhäuser, Basel
  • eBook Packages Mathematics and Statistics
  • Print ISBN 978-3-0348-0711-1
  • Online ISBN 978-3-0348-0712-8
  • About this book