I think it would be a healing ritual for the MO community for someone of appropriate stature (which excludes me) posting an inviting cwiki question that elicits responses from the users to this significant passing, the equivalent to mathematics of Bill Thurston's untimely death. The (useful) notice, Grothendieck -sad news, doesn't quite achieve it. Perhaps something along the lines of Dave Roberts' query in the comments...?

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    $\begingroup$ Not a bad idea. A protected question, of course. $\endgroup$
    – David Roberts Mod
    Commented Nov 14, 2014 at 1:14
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    $\begingroup$ It may be already too late, or superfluous, with 50 votes, 680 views, and many comments to the "sad news" posting... $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 14, 2014 at 1:56
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    $\begingroup$ Talking about healing the following callous statement from NYT's obituary article is repulsive (it's about Grothendieck's father): In 1939, he <Alexander> renunited with his mother and father in France, but his father was arrested, sent to an interment camp at Le Vernet and eventually moved to Auschwitz, where he died in 1942. NYT--SHAME on you! $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 21, 2014 at 20:05
  • $\begingroup$ See above: The New York Times Obituaries Sunday, November 16, 2014. $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 21, 2014 at 20:06
  • $\begingroup$ * internment (not interment). $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 21, 2014 at 22:23
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    $\begingroup$ @WłodzimierzHolsztyński: My apologies if I am being dense, but I fail to see how your excerpt is callous or repulsive. It seems to just be a recollection of facts. $\endgroup$
    – rghthndsd
    Commented Nov 24, 2014 at 14:49
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    $\begingroup$ The whole Grothendieck's life was affected by the tragic destiny of his father. His father was not simply arrested and sent to an internment camp. His father was rounded up by French, as a Jew, and soon he was delivered by French to Germans to perish. Grothendieck's father did't kind of leave the internment imprisonment to go quietly on retirement, to take it easy after a long life, and he didn't just quietly died in Auschwitz. Gronthendieck's father was MURDERED in Auschwitz by Germans. Germans MURDERED Grothendieck's father, with help from French, with French cooperation. $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 25, 2014 at 2:21
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    $\begingroup$ @WłodzimierzHolsztyński: the facts you mention in your most recent comment were already clear to me from the NYT excerpt. My suspicion (apologies if incorrect) is that you are reading "moved to Auschwitz" with a different meaning than the one the author intended. I think the correct parsing is not "[he] eventually moved" but "[he] was... eventually moved." No one is going to miss the implications of someone being arrested, moved to Auschwitz, and dying in 1942. $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 26, 2014 at 1:17
  • $\begingroup$ I stand by my statement about NYT. $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 26, 2014 at 7:29
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    $\begingroup$ @MikeBenfield -- the facts NYT mentioned were already clear to me without the NYT excerpt. We know without NYT that Gronthedieck was not half-bad mathematician, that he won Fields, and that Grothendieck's father was murdered by Germans and French. Thus, according to Mike Benfield's logic, the whole NYT obituary should be the name and 3 letters: Alexander Grothendieck, RIP. $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 27, 2014 at 19:36
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    $\begingroup$ @WłodzimierzHolsztyński I think your last comment exaggerates quite a bit. (I do not find it polite either to insist on your point over and over again, especially in an increasingly sarcastic way.) While on this site your "we know" might be correct, I am quite doubtful that the average reader of the NYT knew much anything about Grothendieck; by contrast, I am quite convinced or at least hopeful that the inference mentioned by Mike Benfield will be made by most. Furthermore, while me too I initially found the phrasing odd, I am given to understand that it is an idiomatic way to express it. $\endgroup$
    – user9072
    Commented Nov 28, 2014 at 13:30
  • $\begingroup$ Very idiomatic. $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 28, 2014 at 19:13

1 Answer 1


The question at MathOverflow has now been closed; I have added a brief explanation as to why. For now it will neither be deleted nor locked, so that comments can still be added by members of our community.

I propose that a soft question be asked not specifically with regard to the passing of Grothendieck, but with the view of eliciting thoughtful reflections on the impact of his work. The present 'answer' is community wiki to encourage others to have a hand at formulating such a question.

  • $\begingroup$ As may have been done with other memorialized members, a question like "where can I find a memorial page for X?" with an answer giving a link seems most appropriate. If they were also MO participants, a little more effort and information might be appropriate, but this forum serves better as a reference to such a service, and not to assuming any aspects of that service. $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 15, 2014 at 20:13
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    $\begingroup$ @TheMaskedAvenger I was proposing to go more in the direction of actual mathematics than memorializing per se - what we do best here. We've all heard what a legendary and visionary and truly unique mathematician he was, but what specifically did he achieve? This is a big list: work on functional analysis and nuclear spaces; influential work in homological algebra; a foundational reworking of Galois theory; obviously the radical reformulation of the Weil conjectures in terms of etale cohomomology of schemes; themes emanating from the Esquisse d'un Programme; anabelian geometry... etc. etc. $\endgroup$
    – Todd Trimble Mod
    Commented Nov 16, 2014 at 1:36
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    $\begingroup$ I can understand discomfort with memorializing (cf. comments here: mathoverflow.net/questions/81821/in-memoriam-torsten-ekedahl), but this situation might be a little different (as AG was not personally known by most of us here, and in fact has had little contact with the mathematical world for over 20 years). But, we should discuss. I'm not trying to push anything, just proposing a possibility which could be very educational. $\endgroup$
    – Todd Trimble Mod
    Commented Nov 16, 2014 at 1:42
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    $\begingroup$ As I'm sure many people already know, there many good answers already in various places to "what specifically did he achieve"?. In particular, Serre's report to the Fields medal committee, which has since been published, contains a good summary of Grothendieck's pre-1966 work. $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 16, 2014 at 21:37
  • $\begingroup$ @DonuArapura That's a good point. With that in mind, it might then make more sense to narrow it down to answers which outline his achievements (or ideas/visions) in the years after his "retirement", e.g., stuff on the long march, the Esquisse, etc. I know of a Festschrift, but I thought something online and for general audiences might be good. Does something like this exist? $\endgroup$
    – Todd Trimble Mod
    Commented Nov 18, 2014 at 14:52
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    $\begingroup$ It's very difficult to track down the report that Donu mentioned (back issues of K-Theory are not easy to access online), but I found it here: phdtree.org/pdf/… $\endgroup$
    – Tom Church
    Commented Nov 19, 2014 at 23:43
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    $\begingroup$ The official version of Serre's report is at portico.org/stable?au=pgg197gm5dt, readable only if your institution subscribes to Portico. $\endgroup$
    – David Roberts Mod
    Commented Nov 24, 2014 at 2:01
  • $\begingroup$ did this proposal get carried out? can someone link to it if so? (planning a blog on the subject myself.) or maybe there should be more meta discussion 1st :p ... on other hand, simple question about his impact on TCS went viral, yay =) ... there are indeed many accounts of grothendieck, but feel it would be very helpful/ worthwhile if the se Q/A format was used as a memorial-like format as in that TCS question & dont regard it as misuse of se, more a sterling use & great example of collective wisdom $\endgroup$
    – vzn
    Commented Nov 25, 2014 at 19:04

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