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Proving It Her Way: Emmy Noether, a Life in Mathematics

David E. Rowe and Mechtild Koreuber
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The Basic Library List Committee suggests that undergraduate mathematics libraries consider this book for acquisition.

[Reviewed by
Cynthia J. Huffman
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How often do two biographies over the same mathematician, sharing a common author and publisher, appear within a year of each other?  That is exactly what happened recently with the publication of two biographies on Emmy Noether, the mother of abstract algebra.  One biography, the book under review, is Proving It Her Way by David E. Rowe and Mechthild Koreuber, which appeared in 2020.  The other is Emmy Noether Mathematician Extraordinaire by David E. Rowe, which appeared in 2021.  The life story of Emmy Noether is especially inspirational as she successfully overcame two major hurdles – being a woman mathematician and a Jew in Germany in the early 20th century – to have a significant impact on modern mathematics, especially in the field of abstract algebra.
The common author of the two books, David E. Rowe, is Professor Emeritus at Johannes Gutenberg University in Mainz, Germany, and a past editor (1994-1996) of Historia Mathematica.  Dr. Rowe is known as an expert on the history of mathematics in Germany, with Google Scholar listing his many articles whose titles include names such as Noether, Hilbert, Klein, and Einstein.  The co-author of Proving It Her Way, Mechthild Koreuber, is Chief Gender Equality Officer at Freie Universität Berlin in Berlin, Germany.  
The inspiration for these two books originated with the involvement of Drs. Rowe and Koreuber in the production of a play whose title translates into English as Diving into Math with Emmy Noether.  The play debuted in the summer of 2019 at a conference organized by Dr. Koreuber in honor of the 100th anniversary of Emmy Noether’s habilitation.  From the preface of Proving It Her Way, “even though these two books are intended for quite different audiences, the goal in both cases is the same: to illuminate Noether’s life in the context of the times by conveying a full-blooded picture of her role in shaping the mathematical activity of her day and, as it happened, well beyond.”
Proving It Her Way focuses on the life of Emmy Noether, especially the people who influenced her and those whom she influenced, along with the struggles she faced.  Although her mathematics and mathematical terms are mentioned throughout the book, details are excluded, making the book accessible to a general audience.  The book opens with a helpful timeline of Noether’s life, a short overview of each of the four mathematicians included in the play (Bartel L. van der Waerden, Pavel Alexandrov, Helmut Hasse, and Olga Taussky), and 26 brief biographical entries of famous mathematicians and scientists who crossed paths with Noether, including Albert Einstein, David Hilbert, Felix Klein, and Sonya Kovalevskaya.  This first chapter is followed by 8 more which give a portrait of Noether’s life and mathematical contributions, her struggles to procure an academic position, her influence as a mathematician and editor, how she was forced to leave Germany, and her brief time in America as a professor at Bryn Mawr and lecturer at the Advanced Institute of Mathematics at Princeton before her untimely death.
The book is replete with photos (over 30) and quotations, many that have not been well-circulated.  It is evident that much new research was undertaken to gather and synthesize archival material, correspondence, and photographs to tell the life story of the mother of Abstract Algebra.  Unlike the several photos of Noether that most often appear in publications, which make it appear she was serious and dour, many of these photographs show a smiling woman, full of life.  Together with the correspondence, a picture is painted of Emmy Noether as an extrovert, who enjoyed swimming, walking, and discussing mathematics.  For example, a quote by Pavel Alexandroff [p. 103] states
Many a mathematical, but not only mathematical conversation took place at the Klie, either in the moving waters of the Leine, which were not always particularly clean, even quite brown after it had rained, or in the sun or else the shade of the lovely trees, a favorite spot for the mosquitos.  And many a mathematical idea was born there as well. … The Klie swimming pool was exclusively for men; females were only represented by Miss Emmy Noether and Mrs. Nina Courant, both of whom exercised their exclusive privileges on a daily basis, not matter what the weather conditions.
Another sample quote [p. 116] is from a letter Noether wrote to Helmut Hasse:
Your proof brought me much joy; so the matter lies somewhat deeper!  I was thinking of a publication in the Reports of the Berlin Academy, where up to now pretty much all short communications on representation theory can be found.  I sent a 5-6 page note to R. Brauer – Königsberg so that he could add his part; it should appear under our names …. Your proof could then follow immediately afterward as a short note; perhaps with the subtitle “from a letter to E. Noether: so that no textual changes would be needed!  What should the main title be and do you agree with my ideas at all?  Should the notes be bound together or separately? …
In addition to her published papers, we also learn of Noether’s other contributions to mathematics: collaborations and networking to bring various mathematicians together, significant editing of others’ works (some while she served as a referee of the important journal Mathematische Annalen), and the enthusiastic education of a new generation of mathematicians.  
Proving It Her Way is a wonderful general biography of Emmy Noether which provides the reader with an interesting overview of her life, mathematical contributions, and perseverance over discrimination.
Dr. Cynthia J. Huffman ( is a University Professor of Mathematics at Pittsburg State University in Pittsburg, KS.