Alfred Tarski: Life and Logic

Alfred Tarski, one of the greatest logicians of all time, is widely thought of as ‘the man who defined truth’. His work on the concepts of truth and logical consequence are cornerstones of modern logic, influencing developments in mathematics, 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 World War II 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 cafés 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.

• The first book-length biography of the great logician Alfred Tarski based on first-hand knowledge and original sources • It places Tarski within his historical, social and intellectual context, contrasting the first half of his life in Poland with the second half in the U.S. • Includes Tarski’s main achievements in logic, set theory and algeraic logic and how and why they have become important in many fields. • Many photographs

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.

Reviews

‘The Fefermans’ biography is an enthralling success story of a self-confident, enterprising, untiring, and entrepreneurial scientist, and a rich and scrupulous account of the numerous achievements accomplished by this powerful logician and his colleagues in philosophy of logic, semantics, set theory, decision procedures, universal algebra, algebraic logic, axiomatic geometry, topology, and model theory.’ Hourya Benis Sinaceur, Notices of the AMS

‘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, author of biographies of Wittgenstein and Russell

‘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 Sol Feferman’s captivating biography pulls no punches, describing his womanizing and his drug use along with his mathematical achievements.’ Keith Devlin, Stanford University, author of Goodbye Descartes: The End of Logic and the Search for a New Cosmology of the Mind

‘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

‘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.’ Elliot Sober, Hans Reichenbach Professor of Philosophy, University of Wisconsin, Madison