Guglielmo Libri Carucci dalla Sommaja bigraphy, stories - Mathematicians

Guglielmo Libri Carucci dalla Sommaja : biography

January 1, 1803 - September 28, 1869

Guglielmo Libri Carucci dalla Sommaja (born January 1, 1803 in Florence, Italy; died September 28, 1869, in Fiesole, Italy) was an Italian count and mathematician, who became known for his love and subsequent theft of ancient and precious manuscripts.

Appointed the Inspector of Libraries in France, Libri began stealing the books he was responsible for, fleeing to England when caught, along with 30,000 books and manuscripts inside 18 trunks. He was sentenced in France to 10 years in jail in absentia; some of the stolen works were returned when he died, but many remained missing.

In June 2010, one of the documents he stole—a letter from the French philosopher René Descartes, dated May 27, 1641—was handed back to France after being found in a library in Haverford College, in Pennsylvania. The letter had been donated by the widow of a college alumnus in 1902, and was discovered only after a philosopher from Utrecht University in the Netherlands read about it on the Internet, and contacted the college to tell them what they had in their library; the existence of the letter had been known to philosophers, but not its contents. The letter was written by Descartes to Father Marin Mersenne who had been overseeing the publication of Descartes's Meditations on First Philosophy.Willsher, Kim. , The Guardian, June 22, 2010.


In Italy

He entered the University of Pisa in 1816, starting to study law, but soon switching to mathematics. He graduated in 1820, his first works being praised by Babbage, Cauchy, and Gauss.

In 1823, at the age of 20, he was appointed Professor of Mathematical Physics at Pisa, but did not relish teaching and the following year went on sabbatical leave, traveling to Paris. There, he became friends with many of the most prominent French mathematicians of the day, including Laplace, Poisson, Ampère, Fourier and Arago. Upon his return to Italy, he became involved in politics, conspiring with the secret society of the Carbonari to advocate a liberal constitution in the Grand Duchy of Tuscany. Faced with arrest and prosecution, he fled to France

In France

In 1833, he became a French citizen. His friend Arago, the secretary of the Académie des sciences helped him obtain professorship at the Collège de France in 1833, succeeding the great mathematician Legendre and in and 1834 he was elected as assistant professor in the calculus of probabilities at the Sorbonne. He was elected to the Academy and given the Légion d'honneur.

Although his friendship with Arago helped him obtain some these prestigious posts, eventually their relationship went sour and by 1835 they had become bitter enemies. Since Arago was a powerful figure in French mathematics at the time, many others in the mathematical establishment also became Libri's enemies, including Liouville; the two would attack each other at every opportunity in meetings of the Academy.

Between 1838 and 1841 Count Libri wrote and published a four volume "History of the Mathematical Sciences in Italy from the Renaissance of literature to the 17th Century"."Histoire des sciences mathématiques en Italie, depuis la renaissance des lettres jusqu'à la fin du dix-septième siècle" His original research was partially based on some 1800 manuscripts and books by Galileo, Fermat, Descartes, Leibniz, and other luminaries which he claimed to have collected throughout his career; in fact, some of these, as it turned out, had been stolen in Florence from the Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana.

In 1841, Libri obtained an appointment as Chief Inspector of French Libraries through his friendship with influential French Chief of Police François Guizot. This job, involving in part the cataloguing of valuable books and precious manuscripts allowed Count Libri to indulge his collecting passion by continuing to steal them, and although he was under suspicion, he was not investigated or charged. Abusing his functions and dissimulating a poor health (coughing, dressed in a big cape in all weathers), he required to end up alone in the archives of libraries, across the country including the one of the Institut de France and, a "loan" pulling the other one, he completed little by little his collection of rare books and autographs.

Living octopus

Living octopus

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