Stefan Banach: Remarkable life, brilliant mathematics. Biographical materials. 3rd ed.

*(English)*Zbl 1236.01023
Gdańsk: Gdańsk University Press; Providence, RI: American Mathematical Society (AMS)/distributor (ISBN 978-83-7326-451-9/hbk; 978-83-7326-827-2/hbk). xiii, 185 p. (2011).

Stefan Banach was arguably the most important Polish mathematician of the 20th century. R. Kałuża, the author of the most comprehensive biography about Banach [R. Kałuża, Through a reporter’s eyes: the life of Stefan Banach. Basel: Birkhäuser (1996; Zbl 0849.01019)] considers him a national hero; and although there might be a little exaggeration in this attribution, it is certainly true that in most major Polish cities one can find a street bearing his name. (By contrast, the Germans are much less reverential since there is no Hilbert street in Hamburg, Munich, Cologne or Frankfurt; Berlin has one, but it is named after a local butcher.)

Banach’s life was an unusual one. Born out of wedlock he was raised by a foster family. Later he studied at the Lwów Polytechnic, but mathematically he was essentially self-taught – only to become the founder of functional analysis; the notion of Banach space is of course ubiquitous in modern analysis. He sported somewhat eccentric habits that are recounted in many articles; suffice it to mention his predilection to work (etc.) in places like the “Scottish Café” in Lwów. Several biographical details were displayed incorrectly in the past though, as we know from Kałuża’s book, for instance by H. Steinhaus. For example, Banach was not raised by a laundress, but his foster family was rather well-off; his foster mother was the owner of a laundry business.

The book under review contains new material about Banach’s biography, collected by various authors. E. Jakimowicz gives a biographical account of Banach’s life. Two chapters present letters to and from Banach and personal collections about him and his father. S. Domoradzki, Z. Pawlikowska-Brożek and M. Zarichny write about “Stefan Banach in the light of archives” and J. Musielak about his mathematical work. Further, there are pieces about Banach and the Lwów mathematical school by K. Cieselski and Z. Pogoda, about the Scottish Book by M. Kordos and about the New Scottish Book by R. Duda.

There are several aspects in these texts that I did not find discussed in such depth in other sources; for example concerning the care and responsibility that Banach’s natural father took or concerning the assessment of R. Weigl’s role during the German occupation 1941–1944. (Weigl, an eminent Polish biologist and like Banach a university professor in Lwów, was the head of a bacteriological institute in Lwów during this period; a good deal of the local intelligentsia was employed there on rather obnoxious jobs like feeding lice – but these jobs, deemed important by the Germans, saved their lives. Consequently Weigl was elected to the “Righteous among the Nations” in Yad Vashem in 2003.)

The book is richly illustrated by contemporary photographs, many of them from family collections and published here for the first time, documents and facsimiles of letters. Readers interested in the development of the Lwów school and Polish mathematics in general will be intrigued by this volume. Unfortunately, at times the publisher did not spend too much effort on typographical detail.

Banach’s life was an unusual one. Born out of wedlock he was raised by a foster family. Later he studied at the Lwów Polytechnic, but mathematically he was essentially self-taught – only to become the founder of functional analysis; the notion of Banach space is of course ubiquitous in modern analysis. He sported somewhat eccentric habits that are recounted in many articles; suffice it to mention his predilection to work (etc.) in places like the “Scottish Café” in Lwów. Several biographical details were displayed incorrectly in the past though, as we know from Kałuża’s book, for instance by H. Steinhaus. For example, Banach was not raised by a laundress, but his foster family was rather well-off; his foster mother was the owner of a laundry business.

The book under review contains new material about Banach’s biography, collected by various authors. E. Jakimowicz gives a biographical account of Banach’s life. Two chapters present letters to and from Banach and personal collections about him and his father. S. Domoradzki, Z. Pawlikowska-Brożek and M. Zarichny write about “Stefan Banach in the light of archives” and J. Musielak about his mathematical work. Further, there are pieces about Banach and the Lwów mathematical school by K. Cieselski and Z. Pogoda, about the Scottish Book by M. Kordos and about the New Scottish Book by R. Duda.

There are several aspects in these texts that I did not find discussed in such depth in other sources; for example concerning the care and responsibility that Banach’s natural father took or concerning the assessment of R. Weigl’s role during the German occupation 1941–1944. (Weigl, an eminent Polish biologist and like Banach a university professor in Lwów, was the head of a bacteriological institute in Lwów during this period; a good deal of the local intelligentsia was employed there on rather obnoxious jobs like feeding lice – but these jobs, deemed important by the Germans, saved their lives. Consequently Weigl was elected to the “Righteous among the Nations” in Yad Vashem in 2003.)

The book is richly illustrated by contemporary photographs, many of them from family collections and published here for the first time, documents and facsimiles of letters. Readers interested in the development of the Lwów school and Polish mathematics in general will be intrigued by this volume. Unfortunately, at times the publisher did not spend too much effort on typographical detail.

Reviewer: Dirk Werner (Berlin)

##### MSC:

01A70 | Biographies, obituaries, personalia, bibliographies |

01A72 | Schools of mathematics |

46-03 | History of functional analysis |