Samuel Eilenberg (1913-1998),
one of the fathers of category the-
ory, at a Bourbaki conference.
Eilenberg was one of the few non-
French members of the group.
that we request of you with all respect.
"Following is a summary of the funds we are requesting. Seven
us live outside of Paris and we hold at least four meetings each yea
allowing on average 250 francs per person per meeting to cov
travel and living expenses yields a total of 7000 francs. In additio
we estimate that 3000 francs are needed for various expense
including correspondance, office supplies, typing, duplication, a
especially the payment of assistants who copy formulas by han
onto the duplicated manuscripts, a service which is as vital as it
expensive.
"A grant of 10000 francs per year for four or five years wou
allow us to complete our project successfully.
"Mr. Perrin, we hope that you will accept our profound deferen
and respectful admiration."
The letter closed with the signature of Mandelbrojt, who was t
oldest member of the group; the pseudonym Bourbaki was nev
mentioned. The grant was awarded for a year and subsequent
renewed.
A Guinea Pig Must Prove Himself
Bourbaki quickly gained new members through a unique recruitme
procedure. Bourbaki often invited one or two additional people
the group's conferences. In some cases, these were "guinea pigs
potential future recruits who were being tested. Once a promisin
young mathematician had been spotted, Dieudonne explained at
conference in Romania in 1968, "the procedure was to invite him to
conference as a 'guinea pig,' it's a traditional method. You all kno
about laboratory guinea pigs, who are exposed to all sorts of viruse
Well, it's the same sort of thing, the poor guy is thrown into t
Bourbaki discussion sessions, and not only must he understand,
must also participate. If he's silent, he simply won't be invited again
If he is recruited, it means that other members must leave, sin
Bourbaki hardly ever grew beyond a dozen members. Sometime
departures stem from more or less significant disagreements abo
the group's goals and methods of working. For example, Paul Dubre
left even before the founding plenary conference of 1935, in pa
because of unavailability (his wife had been hired at Rennes, while h
was at Nancy) and in part because, as he confided to Liliane Beaulie
he disliked the disorderly discussions and preferred working wi
one or two people on precise problems than to working in a lar
group. Jean Leray, an eminent French mathematician, also left ear
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