Kurt Gödel. Das Album - The Album
A great book! It is at least as valuable as the exhibition that it catalogues. It will be appreciated by anybody who is interested in or curious about Kurt Gödel.
The life’s work of Gödel ranks among the highest from the point of view of pure science. At the same time it must be seen in the context of the intellectually productive Viennese atmosphere that was present in the first decades of the 20th century and of the following political disaster.
The catalogue is divided into three parts: Gödel's life, Gödel's work and Gödel's Vienna. It is beautifully illustrated, with photographs, documents and letters. We have never been given a closer look at the true Gödel; we see a copy of a school report of the eleven-year-old Kurt that exhibits only the best grades, with the only exception being a second best in mathematics! We also see copies of official documents concerning Gödel's PhD and his Habilitation, and we see photographs of Adele, who was seven years older than Kurt and who, according to O. Morgenstern, “saved his life”.
Between 1929 and 1937, Gödel produced his breathtaking results on the completeness of the calculus for 1st order logic (his PhD topic), on the incompleteness of formal systems (the topic of his Habilitationsschrift) and on the relative consistency of the axiom of choice and the generalized continuum hypothesis. But not only did he never get a permanent position at the university of Vienna, he was also deprived of his ‘venia legendi’ by the National Socialists. The relevant paperwork reproduced in the catalogue shows an oppressive reality. In June 1940, Gödel was again granted the title of “Dozent”; he never picked up the certificate, though, having emigrated to the US earlier that same year.
Other emigrants from Vienna included Karl Menger, O. Morgenstern, Olga Taussky, Otto Neurath and Rudolf Carnap, to mention just a few who are discussed in the catalogue.
In Princeton, Gödel focused on philosophy and the theory of general relativity. He reconstructed a formal version of the ontological proof of the existence of God, which he did not want to be published for fear that people would conclude that he really believed in God. Gödel also presented a solution to the field equations allowing time travel into the past. His letters to his mother give a detailed account of his intellectual hikes. Photographs show him chatting with Albert Einstein and enjoying himself in the garden of his house.
Some of the material as well as background information may be found at www.goedelexhibition.at/. We must congratulate the organizers on creating such an impressive exhibition and the authors on producing this catalogue. I wish there could be more books like this, which make mathematicians comprehensible in their cultural and political contexts.