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Alfred Tarski: Life and Logic

4.6 out of 5 stars 16 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0521802406
ISBN-10: 0521802407
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Editorial Reviews


"A chain smoker, a heavy drinker, a frequent user of 'speed', a relentless womaniser, and a man of Napoleonic self-regard and worldly ambition. This is not how one pictures an eminent Professor of Logic. And yet, this is how the great logician, Alfred Tarski, emerges from this marvellous biography. The Fefermans, of course, are uniquely qualified to lead the reader through the intricacies of Tarski's work, which they do very engagingly and with great expository skill. Tarski's colourful personality is conveyed with prose that is economical, superbly readable and extremely vivid, and the whole book is a joy to read."
Ray Monk, Professor of Philosophy, University of Southampton

"The story of a remarkable Polish mathematician called Alfred Tarski, who fled the Nazi persecution, came to the United States, and single-handedly turned the Mathematics Department of the University of California at Berkeley into the world center for the study of logic. Anita and Solomon Feferman's captivating biography pulls no punches, describing his womanizing and his drug use along with his mathematical achievements."
Keith Devlin, Stanford University

"Engergetically and engagingly written, Alfred Tarski: Life and Logic, by Anita Burdman Feferman and Solomon Feferman, is a necessary addition to the growing list of contemporary biographies such as those of von Neumann and Cantor. This book will be enjoyed by logicians, mathematicians, historians and those interested in the life of a contemporary academic."
MAA Reviews

"Here we have a vivid portrait of Alfred Tarski as a man of enormous energy and focus, devoted to logic, women and slivovitz, entirely lacking in self-doubt, and ambivalent about his Jewish heritage. The Fefermans provide a richly textured account of the cultural, intellectual, and political worlds in which Tarski lived - first in interwar Poland and then in Berkeley, where he built his logic empire. They also draw highly individualized portraits of the many people who figured in Tarski's life and career. The work that made Tarski one of logic's giants is lucidly explained in a series of compact interludes. This is a wonderful book on many levels."
Elliott Sober, Hans Reichenbach Professor of Philosophy, University of Wisconsin, Madison

"His was a fascinating life, and the new biography Alfred Tarski: Life and Logic covers it all. The authors are exceptionally well qualified to tell his story...[they] were personally acquainted with many of the people they write about here, and they have obtained some remarkably intimate information. The book is beautifully written and a pleasure to read on a number of levels."
American Scientist

"It was a great pleasure to absorb myself in this prodigious work. The heritage of Tarski's Poland is just one of the many themes which the authors develop with sympathy, yet unflinchingly reveal as heavy with conflicts of identity and loyalty. I am amazed at how much they got out of pre-war Poland and at the way they unfold so much of the interior 'logic world' in the course of telling the story. An expert 'interlude' is devoted to explaining the problem of formalising truth, the central spring of Tarski's creative work."
Andrew Hodges, author of Alan Turing: The Enigma

"[A] fascinating biography of the great Polish mathematician and logician Alfred Tarski. Anita Burdman Feferman and Solomon Feferman prove the ideal team for a daunting task. She is a well-known biographer, and he was a student of Tarski and is a distinguished logician in his own right, as well as the editor of Kurt Gödel's papers. The result is a brilliant success."
The London Times

"Reading Tarski's journals and publications, mining many archives, interviewing dozens and dozens of people, and traveling to Poland to visit original sites, the Fefermans have put together a story that is detailed, personal, and one that has painted a splendid portrait...of an extraordinary individual."

"The writing is flawless--fluid and succinct. This book is a joy and an invaluable source of information, a must read for mathematicians and logicians alike. Essential."

"The authors have written a delightful, fascinating, and vivid portrait of an extraordinarily dynamic, dramatic, demanding, and influential figure in 20th century logic, mathematics, and philosophy. Many times while reading this book I thought, 'Yes! That's what he was like!'"
The Bulletin of Symbolic Logic

"A marvelously readable, informative and gossipy account of his life.... When I took up reading this book I never expected to find so much surprising material in it. It reads like a fascinating history of a huge fragment of mathematical logic in the twentieth century.... The book abounds in delightful anecdotes that reveal the magnetic personality of Tarski.... An excellent book from which one can learn a lot about the history of mathematical logic in the twentieth century, the remarkable influence of Tarski on this discipline, and, especially, about Tarski himself."
The Mathematical Intelligencer

Hourya Benis Sinaceur, Notices of the AMS

"...in-depth... useful as supplemental reading material in a history of mathematics or logic course at the university level."
Scott H. Brown, Mathematics Teacher

"I recommend reading ALread Tarski: Life and Logic to all computer scientists, theoreticians or not, passionate about history and history of science or not, as we all need to better understand our field and its emergence." --Pierre Lescanne

Book Description

This first full length biography places Tarski in the social, intellectual and historical context of his times and presents a frank, vivid picture of a personally and professionally passionate man, interlaced with an account of his major scientific achievements.

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Cambridge University Press (October 4, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0521802407
  • ISBN-13: 978-0521802406
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.9 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,049,577 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
This is a wonderful biography about an outstanding man. Alfred Tarski was more than just the ingenious logician, mathematician, and philosopher - he was an exceptional character; his life reflects a century of change. The Fefermans tell his story so vividly, I just could not help having the impression of reading a novel in which the protagonist had become alive.
We learn about the brilliant child of twelve who translates a German short story about a prisoner's playing cards with his executioner for the last time in his life. We see Tarski struggling with his Jewish ancestry when he reinvents himself by choosing the fantasy name "Tarski" in order to cope with the anti-semitic adverseness of pre-war Poland. We are present at the Bohemian parties in Zakopane, its poets and philosophers, where love is free and drugs are omnipresent. We set sail with Tarski who leaves for the US in order to speak at a conference, while Nazi Germany is only days before overrunning Poland and starting a war in which most of Tarski's relatives are to perish in the Holocaust. We understand how he must have felt, stranded in the US, worrying about his children and his wife who could not follow him, summer clothes and a suitcase as his sole possessions, yet still chasing after logic and love. We accompany him while he erects his logical empire in Berkeley, teaches and exploits the next generation's prodigies, smokes and works, always energetic and awake until every single early morning.
The Fefermans tell this story as if they were invisible observers; they do not invent anything, they do not force upon us their own perspective. It is sufficient for us to know that they have spent half of their lives next to Tarski, with Tarski, and perhaps sometimes even opposed to Tarski.
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Format: Hardcover
This is one of the best scientific biographies I've read. Alfred Tarski was not only an important figure in 20th century mathematics and philosophy, he was also an incredibly interesting and multi-faceted person. Anita Burdman Feferman and Sol Feferman paint a wonderful portrait of both Tarski, the man, and Tarski, the mathematician. Sol Feferman, himself an eminent logician and student of Tarski, provides insightful introductions to Tarski's main mathematical achievements in several "technical interludes." It is an easy read. The personal stories of Tarski's flight from Poland just before the Nazi invasion, his contacts with other noted 20th century philosophers, his influence on the development of logic and semantics, and details of his relationships with his students make for an engrossing, often moving, and always fascinating story.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Let me state unequivocally that I want to pour gushing lavish praise on this sublime biography. The Fefermans have crafted a wonderfully warm and inspirational account of Alfred Traski, his life and loves. Many biographies of great intellects remain trapped in awe of their subjects, hesitant about exploring their foibles at length and treating divergencies from the norm as eccentricities. This book is an admirable contrast to the standard hagiographical style. Be under no illusion here, you will read about Tarski's contributions to logic, but perhaps more interestingly you will explore the complex emotional and psychological world of Tarksi. His separation from his wife and children during WWII. His struggle to cope with impecuniary. Sexual proclivities. Shifting friendships. His step away from Judaism. The loyalty and antipathies he inspired. His humanity. The picture painted is complex and subtle.

In short this is one of the finest and most rewarding biographies I have ever read. When you read this book, bear in mind the debt owed to its authors. It is unlikely a book as fine as this will come around again in the near future.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
As a book about Tarski, I might give this four stars. However, this book is intended to be a biography and as such, I give it only 3 stars. First the good: The authors give a lot of detail regarding Tarski's relationships with the people he worked with, both students and teachers. The reader can easily imagine himself/herself standing in the place of these people while Tarski was demanding more and more, thanks to the authors' writing style. I also really liked the fact that the authors included some aspects of Tarski's work in the book, but in separate chapters. This way, those who are interested can look at his work, while those who don't care about the details can just skip over the chapters.
Now to the bad. This book hardly talks about Tarski's relationship with his parents or his children. We are told that he didn't have an easy relationship with both of his children. but nothing more is said. Also, we never know what his wife is thinking. We are told of his constant cheating, his constant demand for attention, and his constant need to be looked after. The authors try to speculate at some points in the book about some of his wife's actions (or lack of action to be more exact), but there is no data available. Another thing that bothered me in this book is that although the authors seem to acknowledge that Tarski was an excellent researcher but a terrible husband and father, they kept trying to find excuses for him. At one point when they were talking about his sexual relationships with other women (while his wife was at home cooking and cleaning for him because he didn't allow her to work) they said that he was a romantic and that he needed the presence of women in his life. Really? So thats why men cheat on their wives? Because they are romantic?
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