Bourbaki's Cradle, I'Ecole Normale Superieur
L'Ecole Normale Superieure has produced numerous authors, int
lectuals, and politicians, including Raymond Aron, Jean-Paul Sart
and Georges Pompidou. In the sciences as well, it is the ENS (alo
with I'Ecole Polytechnique) that produces most of the elite of Fren
research. At the beginning of the nineteenth century, most Fren
mathematicians had studied at the Ecole Polytechnique; by the e
of that century, most had studied at the ENS. To cite a few exampl
Gaston Darboux, Emile Picard, Paul Painleve, Jacques Hadamard, E
Cartan, Rene Baire, and Henri Lebesgue were all Normaliens; ho
ever, Henri Poincare was a Polytechnicien.
It is at the prestigious ENS on the rue d'Ulm that the five futu
founding members of Bourbaki, Henri Cartan, Claude Chevalley, Je
Delsarte, Jean Dieudonne, and Andre Weil, met and became friend
Delsarte and Weil arrived in 1922, Cartan in 1923, Dieudonne
1924, and Chevalley in 1926. These mathematicians took part in t
adventures of Bourbaki from the beginning in 1934 and didn't lea
until age forced them to. However, they were not the only math
maticians who participated in founding the group. Other mathema
cians of the same generation were involved in Bourbaki's first ste
to various degrees.
After the founding plenary conference held in July 1935, whe
the collective pseudonym Bourbaki was adopted, the nine offic
members of the group were Jean Coulomb, Charles Ehresman
Szolem Mandelbrojt (the uncle of Benoit Mandelbrot, the father
fractals), Rene de Possel, and the five founding members alrea
named. Of these nine, only Mandelbrojt was not a Normalien. Born
Poland, Mandelbrojt had completed his doctorate in Paris and h
been teaching at the University of Clermont-Ferrand since 192
Coulomb, who was more of a geophysicist than a mathematician, l
the group relatively early, in 1937.
These young mathematicians, each at most thirty years old, he
their first work meeting on Monday, December 10, 1934. Initial
their project was to write an analysis textbook to replace the unsati
factory exisiting books—Edouard Goursat's book in particular—f
use in French higher education. The meeting was held over lunch
the cafe A. Capoulade in the Latin Quarter of Paris, near t
Pantheon. This cafe, which was located at 63 boulevard Saint-Mich
on the corner with rue Soufflot, has since been replaced by one of t
many American-style fast-food havens. Gathered around a baseme
table were Henri Cartan, Claude Chevalley, Jean Delsarte, Je
Dieudonne, Rene de Possel, and Andre Weil. Almost all of the
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