The Fight Over a Mathematician's Notes


Over a year after one of the most celebrated mathematicians of the 21st Century passed away a legal battle rages in France over the thousands of pages of notes he left behind.

Alexander Grothendieck is neither a name most people will recognize nor is his work something most people would understand. However, his work on algebraic geometry has proven to be of extreme importance in genetics, robotics and cryptography.

For this work, Grothendieck was awarded two of the most prestigious awards in mathematics: the Fields Medal and the Crafoord Prize.

Now, after his death, the thousands of pages of notes Grothendieck took are the subject of a fierce fight as reported by The Independent in an article entitled "Alexander Grothendieck: Legal battle over 'scribblings' of 20th century's 'greatest mathematician'."

In his later years Grothendieck became a recluse. He retreated to his property in Southern France and lived as a subsistence farmer. He also developed an interest in pacifism and environmental activism.

This has led to speculation about exactly what is in the thousands of pages of notes. They could contain valuable mathematic insights or they could contain ramblings about the causes Grothendieck supported.

The current battle pits the French National Library, Grothendieck's family and the University of Montpellier all against each other for ownership of all or part of the notes.

Each party is currently in possession of some of the notes, although the family has deposited five trunks full of pages of the notes with an expert to be appraised. The library and the family are fighting over the value of the notes. The family is disputing the University's claim to own 20,000 pages of the notes that were previously given to it by a former pupil of the mathematician.

Reference: Independent (Jan. 15, 2016) "Alexander Grothendieck: Legal battle over 'scribblings' of 20th century's 'greatest mathematician'."

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