Siobhan Roberts. King of infinite space: Donald coxeter, the man who saved geometry

Philosophia Mathematica 15 (3):386-388 (2007)

Abstract

Donald Coxeter died in 2003, at a ripe old age of 96. Though I had regularly seen him at mathematics talks in Toronto for over twenty years, I never felt rushed to seek him out. It seemed he would go on forever. His death left me regretting my missed opportunity and Siobhan Robert's excellent book makes me regret it even more. Like any good biography of an intellectual, King of Infinite Space contains personal details and mathematical achievements in some detail. Thus, we learn of the traumatic effects on Coxeter of his parents' divorce, his search for a spouse, his vegetarianism, and his progressive politics. We also learn a fair bit about the kaleidoscopes he made while in Cambridge during his student days in order to study the symmetry properties of polyhedra. These involved mirrors that Coxeter had specially constructed for this purpose. Along the way we are treated to interesting tidbits, such as G.H. Hardy's detestation of mirrors . There are brief accounts of the brilliant notation Coxeter invented, known as Coxeter diagrams, and of course, the now famous Coxeter groups. Short appendices fill in a bit more detail. It is all very well done and thoroughly engrossing.Wittgenstein befriended Coxeter, who was part of the very small group to whom …

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James Robert Brown
University of Toronto, St. George Campus

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