Sometimes the brightest minds operate much differently than the rest of humanity, resulting in habits and lifestyles that seem foreign to those on the outside. That was apparently the case with Alexander Grothendieck, whose mathematical brilliance helped shape the entire field during the 20th century.
But he also lived a particularly cloistered life, spending much of his time entirely removed from the outside world prior to his death in 2014 at the age of 86.
Peeking behind the curtain
While he took many mysteries about himself with him when he died, experts now have an opportunity to study his thoughts in more detail. Last week in France, a trove of handwritten manuscripts — tens of thousands of pages in all — were released.
In addition to math, he discussed physics, philosophy, psychology, his personal life, and recurring expositions about Satan.
For roughly the final two decades of his life, Grothendieck devoted his time to what he called “scribblings” while experiencing a life of self-imposed exile in the village of Lasserre in France.
Now, the National Library of France is in possession of those wide-ranging papers.
Looking for the significance
Johanna Grothendieck, the Nobel Prize winner’s daughter, said that he even severed ties with his family after moving to Lasserre.
“When we sent him a letter it was returned to sender,” she said. “Writing was his main activity.”
So what would cause even an eccentric person like him to so thoroughly shut himself off from the world? We might never know the whole story, but his daughter looks at some of the texts as an effort to deal with the “ghosts of his past,” which include a father who was able to escape Germany during World War II but was ultimately turned over to the Nazis and died in a concentration camp.