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Alfred Tarski: Life and Logic

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Overview

Alfred Tarski, one of the greatest logicians of all time, is widely thought of as 'the man who defined truth'. His mathematical work on the concepts of truth and logical consequence are cornerstones of modern logic, influencing developments in philosophy, linguistics and computer science. Tarski was a charismatic teacher and zealous promoter of his view of logic as the foundation of all rational thought, a bon-vivant and a womanizer, who played the 'great man' to the hilt. Born in Warsaw in 1901 to Jewish parents, he changed his name and converted to Catholicism, but was never able to obtain a professorship in his home country. A fortuitous trip to the United States at the outbreak of war saved his life and turned his career around, even while it separated him from his family for years. By the war's end he was established as a professor of mathematics at the University of California, Berkeley. There Tarski built an empire in logic and methodology that attracted students and distinguished researchers from all over the world. From the cafes of Warsaw and Vienna to the mountains and deserts of California, this first full length biography places Tarski in the social, intellectual and historical context of his times and presents a frank, vivid picture of a personally and professionally passionate man, interlaced with an account of his major scientific achievements.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"A chain smoker, a heavy drinker, a frequent user of 'speed', a relentless womaniser, and a man of Napoleonic self-regard and worldly ambition. This is not how one pictures an eminent Professor of Logic. And yet, this is how the great logician, Alfred Tarski, emerges from this marvellous biography. The Fefermans, of course, are uniquely qualified to lead the reader through the intricacies of Tarski's work, which they do very engagingly and with great expository skill. Tarski's colourful personality is conveyed with prose that is economical, superbly readable and extremely vivid, and the whole book is a joy to read."
Ray Monk, Professor of Philosophy, University of Southampton

"The story of a remarkable Polish mathematician called Alfred Tarski, who fled the Nazi persecution, came to the United States, and single-handedly turned the Mathematics Department of the University of California at Berkeley into the world center for the study of logic. Anita and Solomon Feferman's captivating biography pulls no punches, describing his womanizing and his drug use along with his mathematical achievements."
Keith Devlin, Stanford University

"Engergetically and engagingly written, Alfred Tarski: Life and Logic, by Anita Burdman Feferman and Solomon Feferman, is a necessary addition to the growing list of contemporary biographies such as those of von Neumann and Cantor. This book will be enjoyed by logicians, mathematicians, historians and those interested in the life of a contemporary academic."
MAA Reviews

"Here we have a vivid portrait of Alfred Tarski as a man of enormous energy and focus, devoted to logic, women and slivovitz, entirely lacking in self-doubt, and ambivalent about his Jewish heritage. The Fefermans provide a richly textured account of the cultural, intellectual, and political worlds in which Tarski lived - first in interwar Poland and then in Berkeley, where he built his logic empire. They also draw highly individualized portraits of the many people who figured in Tarski's life and career. The work that made Tarski one of logic's giants is lucidly explained in a series of compact interludes. This is a wonderful book on many levels."
Elliott Sober, Hans Reichenbach Professor of Philosophy, University of Wisconsin, Madison

"His was a fascinating life, and the new biography Alfred Tarski: Life and Logic covers it all. The authors are exceptionally well qualified to tell his story...[they] were personally acquainted with many of the people they write about here, and they have obtained some remarkably intimate information. The book is beautifully written and a pleasure to read on a number of levels."
American Scientist

"It was a great pleasure to absorb myself in this prodigious work. The heritage of Tarski's Poland is just one of the many themes which the authors develop with sympathy, yet unflinchingly reveal as heavy with conflicts of identity and loyalty. I am amazed at how much they got out of pre-war Poland and at the way they unfold so much of the interior 'logic world' in the course of telling the story. An expert 'interlude' is devoted to explaining the problem of formalising truth, the central spring of Tarski's creative work."
Andrew Hodges, author of Alan Turing: The Enigma

"[A] fascinating biography of the great Polish mathematician and logician Alfred Tarski. Anita Burdman Feferman and Solomon Feferman prove the ideal team for a daunting task. She is a well-known biographer, and he was a student of Tarski and is a distinguished logician in his own right, as well as the editor of Kurt Gödel's papers. The result is a brilliant success."
The London Times

"Reading Tarski's journals and publications, mining many archives, interviewing dozens and dozens of people, and traveling to Poland to visit original sites, the Fefermans have put together a story that is detailed, personal, and one that has painted a splendid portrait...of an extraordinary individual."
SIAM News

"The writing is flawless—fluid and succinct. This book is a joy and an invaluable source of information, a must read for mathematicians and logicians alike. Essential."
CHOICE

"The authors have written a delightful, fascinating, and vivid portrait of an extraordinarily dynamic, dramatic, demanding, and influential figure in 20th century logic, mathematics, and philosophy. Many times while reading this book I thought, 'Yes! That's what he was like!'"
The Bulletin of Symbolic Logic

"A marvelously readable, informative and gossipy account of his life.... When I took up reading this book I never expected to find so much surprising material in it. It reads like a fascinating history of a huge fragment of mathematical logic in the twentieth century.... The book abounds in delightful anecdotes that reveal the magnetic personality of Tarski.... An excellent book from which one can learn a lot about the history of mathematical logic in the twentieth century, the remarkable influence of Tarski on this discipline, and, especially, about Tarski himself."
The Mathematical Intelligencer

"...fascinating..."
Hourya Benis Sinaceur, Notices of the AMS

"...in-depth... useful as supplemental reading material in a history of mathematics or logic course at the university level."
Scott H. Brown, Mathematics Teacher

"I recommend reading ALread Tarski: Life and Logic to all computer scientists, theoreticians or not, passionate about history and history of science or not, as we all need to better understand our field and its emergence." —Pierre Lescanne

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780521802406
  • Publisher: Cambridge University Press
  • Publication date: 9/15/2004
  • Pages: 432
  • Product dimensions: 5.98 (w) x 8.98 (h) x 1.14 (d)

Meet the Author

Anita Burdman Feferman is an independent scholar and writer. She is the author of Politics, Logic and Love: The Life of Jean van Heijenoort (published in paperback as From Trotsky to Gödel: The Life of Jean van Heijenoort). She knew Alfred Tarski socially for thirty years.

Solomon Feferman is on the faculty of Stanford University, where he is Professor of Mathematics and Philosophy. He is a recipient of the Rolf Schock Prize in Logic and Philosophy, a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and has held a Guggenheim fellowship twice. He is the author of In the Light of Logic and the editor-in-chief of the multi-volume Kurt Gödel: Collected Works. He was one of Tarski's students at UC Berkeley in the 1950s.

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Table of Contents

1. The two Tarskis; 2. Independence and university; Interlude I. The Banach-Tarski paradox, set theory and the axiom of choice; 3. Polot! The Polish attribute; Interlude II. The completeness and decidability of algebra and geometry; 4. A wider sphere of influence; Interlude III. Truth and definability; 5. How the 'Unity of Science' saved Tarski's life; 6. Berkeley is so far from Princeton; 7. Building a school; Interlude IV. The publication campaigns; 8 'Papa Tarski' and his students; 9. Three meetings and two departures; 10. Logic and methodology, center stage; 11. Heydays; Interlude V. Model theory and the 1963 symposium; 12. Around the world; 13. Los Angeles and Berkeley; Interlude VI. Algebras of logic; 14. A decade of honors; 15. The last times.

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