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Serge Lang

  1. Apr 25, 2003 #1
    During my freshman year at Yale, I took a course in multivariable calculus under the tutelage of Prof. Serge Lang. He was also a fellow of my college, where I had the opportunity to dine with him. He was a very activated, no B. S. person whose life revolved around academics. I am honored to have explored mathematics with him.

    Do any of you know of Serge, his books or his extracurricular activities?
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  3. Apr 25, 2003 #2


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    All I know is its book "linear algebra"... not my favorite textbook on the subject but a pretty good one!
  4. Apr 25, 2003 #3
    Serge Lang is well known, mainly in his area of number theory, where he has done lots of things about automorphic forms. Shall we understand by your "was" that he has died recently?
  5. Apr 25, 2003 #4
    "Was" reflects more my own academic rebirth; from the web, Serge seems to be progressing unfettered.
  6. Apr 25, 2003 #5
    One of my good friends knows him -- his impression was that Prof Lang really wasn't incredibly bright (compared to his other mathematics profs that is.) He is also one of the major academic proponents of the "HIV does not cause AIDS" theory.

    I've never talked to him myself -- his grad book on algebra wasn't bad, though.
  7. Apr 26, 2003 #6
    Usually it is hard to say who is/was really a brilliant mathematician, physicist, etc. This depends on many factors, however, Serge Lang has also participated in trying to divulgate the mathematics, by many extracurricular activities, or generic books (lie e.g. the late Coxeter). There are, on the contrary, extraordinary competent people that are totally unknown to the general public because they never interested in making easy or accesible their work.
  8. Jun 30, 2007 #7
    My name is Michael Costantini. I was a close friend of Serge Lang in the early 1970s and have a wealth of information concerning this extroadinary person and am willing to share it with sentient persons.
  9. Jun 30, 2007 #8
    Here is our opportunity to learn from you. Please tell me about Serge the undergraduate mathematics professor. I remember when he shared with us freshmen the need for a simpler proof that a mapping of vectors on a sphere has at least two points with vectors of zero magnitude.
  10. Jun 30, 2007 #9
    I am refering to the man as a humanitarian and to his personal life. My relationship with Serge was not based in mathematics but rather a spiritual and entertaining dynamic of a young boy of 15 and a mentor of life.
  11. Jun 30, 2007 #10


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    I have read, studied, or eprused many of Lang's books, and been at conferences enlivened by his presence. I believe he recentky died and was the subject of some appreciative articles in the AMS notices.

    He was obviously a brilliant man, and even moreso, a marvel of energy, enthusiasm, and taste in mathematics. He wrote many of the books that raised the level of mathematics taught in college. Therse include especially his famous algebra book, still unmatched for its unabashed honesty about the expectations for a future professional. Langs book was essential as a grad student, to keep up with our courses.

    He is also famous for his books on algebraic geometry, number theory, group representations (SL(2,R)), differential manifolds, as well as the undergraduate books on linear algebra, calculus, several variables, complex analysis, and even high school math.

    He also lectured to high schools and high school teachers on what math is like to a researcher like himself, and also undertook several famous and lengthy crusades in political causes, which interest me less, but took lots of energy that woulod have been impossible for a less gifted person.

    Once at a conference we were all standing around the coffee machine gabbing, when time came to begin again. Serre sang out cheerily, "lets get back to work, or XXXXX (an NSF officer who was present) wont renew our grants!"

    We all immediatey filed back in the auditorium laughing and chatting. That was my introduction to the personality of the irrepressible Serge Lang.

    His books are famous for making difficult matters simple, but noit for featuring lots of the tedious exampels necessary to master them. In the professional world, and in his books, making and doing exercises is the responsibility of the reader.

    His most famous exercise, and much more realistic than it may sound to a student today, was in his algebra book, where at the end of the section on homology he wrote: "Get hold of any book on homological algebra and prove all the theorems without looking at the proofs given in that book."

    I have never met anyone else quite like Serge lang, nor have many people had his impact on graduate math education in my time.

    His books are a good standard one should aspire to, but are widely considered too hard today, a sad statement about todays education standards. A few years ago, Hungerford's book was considered a compromise from lang's book, necessary because of the weakness of students. Today even Hungerford is considered too hard, and one often uses Dummit and Foote, an even lower level work than Hungerford.

    I recommend using all three books, as Lang alone is insufficient for mastery, but those other books, as well as they do explain many things, and with their excellent exercises, still do not take one quite high enough in point of view, for professional success.
    Last edited: Jun 30, 2007
  12. Jun 30, 2007 #11
    A mentor

    I met Serge Lang during the the Summer of 1969 in San Francisco when I was 15. My father was a noted physician and public health advocate. I wanted very much to follow my dream of being an artist having at an early age developed a personal style which had to do with finding repeating shapes in chaotic and random actions. My father, more out of compassion rather than empathy, tried his best to discourage my desire to develop my investigations into a career. This is ironic as he himself was a seeker of truth yet I am certain he simply saw the path of an artist as one wrought with hardship and a risky way to make a living.

    I had many conversations with Serge about this dilemma and his summation was always that I should, at all cost, follow my heart and do that which held meaning for me. He never wavered from this advice but did suggest that teaching might be a viable addition to the mix as it would afford the ability to fund personal artistic endeavors. I did a little teaching under NEA grants but found the studio to be my place of ultimate salvation.

    I am a successful artist today and have followed the dream for 35 years without looking back. I credit Serge Lang's support for much of that conviction. He would send books from Brentanos to my boarding school on the West Coast: about art, architecture, music, politics; records: Julian Bream, John Dowland, (Serge was a student of the Lute and a friend of Bream), Mozart, etc. And one of my photographs graced the cover of one of his algebra books whichI no longer have. Perhaps you know which one. It had a photo of a dandelion in orange/yellow tones on the cover.

    I will remember Serge as a seeker of truth, one who encouraged the same in others, a man of great integrity and principle. He was an absolutely sharp dresser taking great care in his choice of shirts, links and cut a stylish profile.
    He was the fastest walker I ever met, and the only person I knew who could consume a meal in a 5 star restaurant in 30 minutes like it was fast food.

    Can anyone tell me his cause of death?

    Michael Costantini
  13. Jun 30, 2007 #12
    please see reply to mathwonk
  14. Jun 30, 2007 #13
    Serge Lang writes excellent Graduate Books in Springer in the Algebraic Number Theory subject. It would be nice to meet him.
  15. Jun 30, 2007 #14
    Serge, if I recall him correctly, believed there were similarities between the rhythm of rock & roll and that of the Troubadours, among other academic musings.

    His manner of eating was to utilize a fork is a continuous cycle between plate and mouth (all the while talking without choking!) He was kind enough to allow me to breakfast with him. He encouraged straightforward conversation.

    He contributed greatly to the most magic semester of my college career, when I studied multivariable calculus from him.

    The book "A Beautiful Mind" mentions a situation at Princeton where Serge threw a cup of hot tea on John Nash.

    Serge maintained an acute exterior yet had within him a creative and forgiving spirit. I am sad to realize that he has left to join many other great mathematicians past.

    Time to rest?
  16. Jul 1, 2007 #15


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    as to cause of death, this is all i found:

    "Serge Lang, a noted mathematics professor emeritus and the most prolific modern writer in his field, died Monday at the age of 78.

    Yale President Richard Levin said he did not know the circumstances of Lang's death, but a colleague said he had been suffering from health problems."
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