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Mathematics at Berkeley: A History

Calvin C. Moore
A K Peters
Publication Date: 
Number of Pages: 
[Reviewed by
Mihaela Poplicher
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This is a history of the Mathematics Department at the University of California at Berkeley from its beginnings until close to the present day. This history is presented with its interconnections with the University, the state of California, and the United States. It is extremely interesting to follow the “birth” and the evolution of the Mathematics Department and of one of the best universities in the world. Of course, mathematicians, students and Californians who had direct connection to the University of California at Berkeley would be very interested readers, but the audience is far wider than that: anybody interested in the history of higher education will find this book fascinating.

In twenty chapters (following a Preface and an Introduction), Professor Emeritus Calvin C. Moore (who was affiliated with the Mathematics Department and the University of California at Berkeley from 1961 to 2004, remaining involved on several committees after that) describes the evolution of the Mathematics Department within the context of the evolution of the University of California, Berkeley.

The University of California (UC), Berkeley was chartered in 1868 and resulted from the fusion of the College of California and the Agricultural and Mechanical College. When the University of California, Berkeley opened in 1869, the Mathematics Department consisted of one professor and a few assistants. The first transformation of the department occurred in 1881–1882, when the regents, who wanted a more “scholarly” department, with a more up-to-date curriculum, replaced the original chairman with Irving Stringham. He modernized the curriculum and added breath and depth to the course offerings. His work was continued by his successor, Haskell, until 1933–1934, when another major reorganization of the department occurred. This reorganization was initiated by the chairs of the other science departments (physics, chemistry, astronomy) who felt that the Mathematics Department had fallen behind in its research standing and intellectual distinction. The changes resulted in some firings and the appointment of Griffith Evans as chairman of the Mathematics Department.  He “remade” the department, mostly by hiring many very good mathematicians. The next major reorganization of the Department occurred in 1957–1958, when members of the Department (lead at that time by John Kelley) proposed a plan of action and convinced the campus leadership to invest very heavily in mathematics.

The book follows the development of the Mathematics Department from the beginning, through these major changes, through changes in the leadership of the Department and — most importantly — through the hiring of many very good mathematicians. Also, the beginnings of the Mathematical Sciences Research Institute (MSRI) and its growth to becoming one of the main mathematics research institutes are explained. After 1985, only some highlights of the events and connections between MSRI and the Mathematics Department at the UC Berkeley are emphasized.

The book has a lot of information and is a very interesting, but not a very easy read.

Mihaela Poplicher is an associate professor of mathematics at the University of Cincinnati. Her research interests include functional analysis, harmonic analysis, and complex analysis. She is also interested in the teaching of mathematics. Her email address is

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