Adventures in Fine Hall: Princeton mathematics in the 1930s

I enjoyed reading this retrospective about the famous mathematicians at Princeton in the 1930s:

From the opening two paragraphs:

The year was 1933. Members of the University’s mathematics department and the Institute for Advanced Study were celebrating the Institute’s opening with a party at the Princeton Inn, which is now Forbes College. “By chance,” an attendee later recalled, he entered just behind the Institute’s most famous faculty member, Albert Einstein. “As we walked across the lobby of the hotel, a Princetonian lady, of the Princetonian variety, strolled toward us. She was fairly tall and almost as wide, beautifully dressed, and she had an air of dignity. She strolled up to Einstein, reached out, put her hand up on Einstein’s head, ruffled his hair all over the place, and said, ‘I have always wanted to do that.’ ”

The source of this marvelous anecdote is Edward McShane, a distinguished mathematician, and the context is an intriguing series of interviews that the University conducted in the 1980s with people who had studied in the mathematics department in the 1930s. These interviews sought to capture the spirit of mathematics at Princeton during a golden age, a time when Einstein, Kurt Gödel, John von Neumann, and other analytical greats crossed paths on campus. In the process, the interviews captured something unexpected: a catalog of weirdness, a palette of colorful and off-kilter adventures that were going on in the background while the big papers were being written.

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