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Pursuit of Genius: Flexner, Einstein, and the Early Faculty at the Institute for Advanced Study Hardcover – July 25, 2006

ISBN-13: 978-1568812595 ISBN-10: 1568812590

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Editorial Reviews


" ""Batterson's detailed rendition of Abraham Flexner's negotiations with a number of the most eminent mathematicians of the 1930s will delight anyone who has ever served on a faculty search committee. Despite some reversals, Flexner successfully recruited Albert Einstein, Oswald Veblen, Hermann Weyl and John von Neumann, all Europeans, and James W. Alexander and Marston Morse, both Americans. Batterson includes descriptions of each man's achievements and importance to the field of mathematics, as well as the social context in which recruitment activities took place, including rising anti- Semitism in Germany, and anti-Semitism in the United States, including Princeton."" -Sarah Boslaugh, MAA Reviews, October 2006
“The book is based primarily on a meticulous study of the institute’s documentary records … Batterson tells a fascinating story …” -John Stachel, NATURE, January 2007
""Pursuit of Genius is a night-table book, an enjoyable read . . . The book is a story, not a history . . . Many will enjoy reading the connections between the Institute and mathematicians, such as George Birkhoff, Einstein, Kurt Godel, Felix Klein, John von Neumann and Hermann Weyl."" -Donald Cook, Mathematiacl Reviews, May 2007
""This is the best book that has yet been written about the Institute … The history of the first nine years is unexpectedly melodramatic, full of quarrels and misunderstandings, power struggles and deceptions."" -Freeman Dyson, IAS, June 2007
""This interesting book ... shows the life and scientific activities and contributions of intellectual leaders from the institute as well as political, economic, and personal situations, conflicts, and intrigues that influenced and determined the future of the institute ... The book can be recommended to anyone who is interested in mathematics and its history."" -EMS, November 2007
Institute for Advanced Study occupies a unique position among institutions of higher learning. An account of its early years is long overdue, so the appearance of the present volume, during the 75th anniversary of the Institute's rounding, is most welcome. Batterson has mined the Institute's archives lo provide a detailed and unvarnished account of the backstage conflicts and intrigue that attended the Institute's growth and determined its future. Those unfamiliar with the Institute will learn how one man's vision shaped a couple's philanthropy and created a haven for scholars in the midst of the Great Depression. Equally, those who have had the privilege of lnstitute membership will enhance their appreciation of the intellectual leaders who made their own Institute experiences possible."" -L'Enseignement Mathématique, October 2006"

From the Inside Flap

This book offers a long-overdue account of the early years of the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey. This is the story of one man’s vision of founding a higher-education institution that operates outside of the standard university model, a place without the pressures of teaching commitments, service obligations, or financial considerations—an environment focused on fostering genius through research.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 314 pages
  • Publisher: A K Peters/CRC Press (July 25, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1568812590
  • ISBN-13: 978-1568812595
  • Product Dimensions: 1.2 x 6.2 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,373,455 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Format: Hardcover
The amount of sheer intellectual might that resided at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton during the early years is extraordinary. The scientific equivalent of a rock star, Albert Einstein, was of course the original prize, yet Kurt Godel, John von Neumann, Oswald Veblen and others also added a great deal. This book is an extremely detailed look at the founding of the institute, the reasons why it was created and the difficulties encountered as it moved from idea to reality.

The level of detail that Batterson presents is amazing. There are records of salary negotiations; internal disputes over how the Institute will be managed and the personal political disputes that seem to be an inherent feature of academia. Given the political and economic conditions of the times, some of these problems are understandable. Hitler was on the rise in Europe and many of the best minds were fleeing the continent for safer areas. The great economic depression had taken hold and despite a great deal of effort by the political leaders, it continued to linger and no one seemed to have an answer. Therefore, it is a tribute to everyone that the Institute was founded and so many great minds were collected in one place.

One of the more interesting points is made at the end of the book. Nobel Prize winner Richard Feynman declined a position at the Institute. He preferred to stay at a university because he believed that the lack of contact with students and new ideas was a detriment to progress. There is some merit to that; few really new ideas have emerged from the people at the Institute after their appointment. Batterson has a counter argument, noting that these are people whose appointment was based on them having had one or two truly outstanding ideas.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Ronald H. Clark VINE VOICE on November 13, 2006
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I had long been interested in the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton as well as Einstein, so this book seemed a natural. While as it turned out Einstein does not figure that prominently in the book, on the score of being an invaluable history of the IAS, the book is all one could hope for. The Institute has been in existence for 75 years, but most of this book's attention is devoted to the early stages of its creation and development under the direction of Abraham Flexner, the distinguished guru of medical education in this country in the early 20th century. Louis Bamberger and his sister, Caroline Bamberger Fuld, department store owners in Newark (flush with cash from having sold out to Macy's), decided to create a New Jersey educational institution of some sort around 1929. Fortunately, they were brought together with Flexner, who had worked extensively with the Rockefeller Foundation's General Education Board, and who developed into the idea man as to how their wishes could be implemented. The book carefully recounts Flexner's ideas on how the Institute could be created and what its goals should be; naturally, Flexner served as the first Director from 1930-1939. The first school Flexner sought to develop was Mathematics, which is examined in great detail by the author who is a math professor. For the most part, math jargon is absent from the discussion. How the first math superstars were recruited and locating the Institute at Princeton (rather than Newark) are the subjects of an interesting discussion. Eventually, the author moves on to the other schools, such as Economics and Humanities, and recounts their formation and development as well. But these discussions are never as extensive as that of mathematics.Read more ›
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