Le Chambon. (The great story of Le Chambon has been the subject of many documentaries, novels,and movies.
) In Le Chambon, Grothendieck wasable to attend the Collège Cévénol, an internationalprivate school founded by Trocmé, which fromthe beginning was dedicated to nonviolence andthe solidarity of all people—not popular ideas in atime of war. In 1945 Alexander completed there hisrather chaotic schooling with the
.It is probably by accident that Grothendieckended up in Montpellier after the war. Perhapshis mother had found work there. He receiveda modest scholarship and started his studies of mathematics. It soon turned out that the univer-sity did not have much to offer him, and he had torely largely on self-study. Since the time he was inschool, he had planned to find out what conceptslike length and volume really mean, and accord-ing to his own reports, he basically developedthe theory of the Lebesgue integral. In the fall of 1948 he went to Paris for a year, where he metthe most important French mathematicians of theday, both the active middle generation of HenriCartan, André Weil, Jean Leray, Laurent Schwartz,and Claude Chevalley, as well as the youngergeneration, his contemporaries Jean-Pierre Serre,Pierre Cartier, François Bruhat, and Armand Borel.Originally, Grothendieck had hoped to be able toquickly get a Ph.D. for his work on the “Lebesgueintegral”. Of course, he now found out that to alarge extent he had simply rediscovered knownthings. Nevertheless, he wanted to stick with thissubject, so, following the advice of Cartan andWeil, on June 20, 1949, he wrote a letter to JeanDieudonné, who like Schwartz was teaching inNancy. From this time on, Grothendieck came intothe mathematical mainstream, and it is generallyknown what he did and achieved during the nexttwenty years. So that I can keep my account short,I refer for details to Jackson and the literaturequoted there.To begin with, Schwartz gave Grothendiecka paper to read that he had just written withDieudonné, which ended with a list of fourteenunsolved problems. After a few months, Grothen-dieck had solved all of them. Try to visualizethe situation: On one side, Schwartz, who had just received a Fields Medal and was at the topof his scientific career, and on the other side theunknown student from the provinces, who hada rather inadequate and unorthodox education.Grothendieck was awarded a Ph.D. for his workon topological vector spaces and stuck with thatfield for a while. He went to Brazil for two yearsand then to Kansas. Largely under the influence of Serre, he turned to algebraic geometry beginning in1954. The most spectacular new result in the fieldwas the theorem of Riemann-Roch-Hirzebruch.Within two years of the awakening of his inter-est in algebraic geometry, Grothendieck found afar-reaching generalization and a completely newproof, which has remained possibly his most sig-nificant single achievement in mathematics.The next fifteen years of Grothendieck’s sci-entific work were dedicated to the rebuilding of algebraic geometry. In 1958 he was appointedto the IHES, which had just been founded bythe businessman Léon Motchane. Together withDieudonné, his former teacher and now colleagueat the IHES, Grothendieck began working on the
Eléments de Géométrie Algébrique
(EGA) and heldthe legendary
Séminaire de Géométrie Algébrique
(SGA). Many mathematicians who were close tohim in those days emphasize that his way of doingmathematics was completely singular: He was notinterested in the solving of difficult or famousproblems, especially if it had to be done “by force”, but his goal was to achieve such a deep and com-plete understanding of the underlying structuresthat the solutions of such problems would fall out“on their own”.During his twelve years at the IHES, Grothen-dieck led an outwardly bourgeois life: He marriedMireille Dufour and had three children with her, born in 1959, 1961, and 1965. Earlier he had hada son from a previous relationship. However, theeducation of his children was unconventional;at least temporarily, they did not attend publicschools. Grothendieck thought that finding one’sown way was more important than a formal educa-tion. His home was hospitable, and he sometimestook in people in need for weeks at a time.In his IHES seminar, Grothendieck surroundedhimself with a group of outstanding students to
Grothendieck’s house in Villecun, where he lived from1973 to 1979.
A r c h i v e o f W i n f r i e d S c h a r l a u , 2 0 0 6 .
See for example Philip P. Hallie,
Lest Innocent Blood BeShed: The Story of the Village of Le Chambon and HowGoodness Happened There
. This book has been published in several editions by Harper & Row, New York.