Landau is renowned for his work on distribution of prime numbers and on what is now called Landau Prime Ideal Theorem. It was once said that no one was ever more passionately devoted to mathematics than Landau.
Photo by: Books Edmund Landau
Edmund Landau was born in Berlin in 1877 in a family of a well-known gynecologist Leopold Landau and Johanna Jacoby, who was from the Jacoby family of leading bankers. He was recognized as a math prodigy from a very early age. One story tells that when he was just 3, his mom forgot her umbrella in a horse carriage, but, to everyone’s surprise, little Edmund has memorized the carriage’s number, so it was easily returned. He began his education at the French Gymnasium in Berlin and graduated two years before his peers. He enrolled at the University of Berlin, studying mathematics, and earned his Ph.D. by age 22, defending his very short (14 pages) thesis in 1899.
Landau’s exceptional math talent was coupled with a remarkable sense of duty and precision. After completing his postdoc in in just two years, he began teaching at his alma mater. During this period his publication list grew rapidly, soon exceeding his age (by 1909 he had nearly 70 papers in print).
Photo by: Plaque on the residential building with the address Herzberger Landstraße 48, Berlin
By age of 31, Landau was appointed professor of mathematics at the University of Göttingen, which was considered the best school for mathematical research until the war.
Perfection characterized his lectures and writings. To this day, his book “Foundation of Analysis” is a standard reference on the axiomatic foundations of the number system. Written with the greatest care, Landau’s books are characterized by argumentation, which is complete, and as simple as possible.
Landau, indeed, developed a style typical only to him, with a seemingly endless “definition-sentence-proof” sequence. His publications quickly gained international recognition, and in 1912, he was invited to give one of the main lectures at the International Mathematical Congress in Cambridge. There he revealed four topics, specifically on prime numbers, which have entered the literature as Landau Problems and apparently remain unsolved to this day.
Landau’s story and rest of his life sadly were affected by a personal drama and abrupted by a history itself. In the early 1920s, he was helping to establish a Hebrew University in Jerusalem. He and his wife (in 1905 he married Marianne Ehrlich, daughter of the Nobel prize winner Paul Ehrlich) moved to Jerusalem, where Landau was offered a position. However, his wife found the conditions in Jerusalem uncomfortable, the construction of the science building was delayed, and some financial demands by Landau were turned down. He was promised a position of a rector but found himself amid a power conflict between the university’s leadership, including Albert Einstein. Landau, disliking the intrigues into which he was unwillingly drawn, decided to return to Germany.
The atmosphere in Göttingen, however, was becoming intolerably anti-Semitic. Soon after coming back, Landau was asked to stop teaching his calculus class. His assistant Werner Weber, a fanatical national-socialist, took over the lectures. Landau insisted on preparing the course, and for each class actually came to the office, in hopes that that the chaos was temporary. By the beginning of the next term, in November 1934, Landau attempted to resume teaching his calculus class himself. The students staged a boycott with the SA guards standing at the doors and forced Landau to leave the classroom and, subsequently, retire.
He spent his last years in Berlin, occasionally making teaching trips to Holland and England, and died of a heart attack in 1938.