A while back I had a blog entry Should we learn from the Masters of the Pupils? The Masters may have more insights but he Pupils may have a better view aided by a modern viewpoint.

Sometimes the Masters are in a different language or not in the modern style but you still want to know what they did and why. As I blogged about earlier (See here) Villarino/Gasarch/Regan have a paper which explains Hilbert's Proof of Hilbert's Irreducibility Theorem (see) Tao has a paper on Szemeredi's Proof of Szemeredi's Theorem (on Tao's webpage: here). Villarino has a paper on Merten's Proof of Merten's Theorem (here).

Mark Villarino read that blog entry (good to know someone did!) and then presented me with MANY examples where the MASTER is worth reading, which I present to you. For all of them reading a well written exposition of what the Master did would also be good (as good? better?) if such exists.

Here is his letter with a few of my comments.

I would suggest the following examples where the original teaches and illuminates more than the modern slick version:

1. Euclid's proof of the Pythagorean Theorem (and its converse). Indeed, once you understand the diagram, the proof is immediate and beautiful. See here.

2. Gauss' first proof (by induction) of quadratic reciprocity. If you REALLY read it, you see how Gauss was led to the proof by numerous specific examples and it is quite natural. It is a marvelous example of how numerical examples inspired the structure of the induction proof. (BILL COMMENT: Here is a Masters Thesis in Math that has the proof and lots of context and other proofs of QR: here)

3. Gauss' first proof of the fundamental theorem of algebra. The real and imaginary parts of the polynomial must vanish simultaneously. However the graph of each is a curve in the plane, and so the two curves must intersect at some point. Gauss explicitly finds a circle which contains the parts of the two curves which intersect in the roots of the polynomial. The proof of the existence of a point of intersection is quite clever and natural, although moderns might quibble. In an appendix he gives a numerical example (BILL COMMENT- Sketch of the first proof of FTOA that I ever saw: First show that the complex numbers C and the punctured plane C- {(0,0)} have different fundamental groups (The fund group of C is trivial, the fund group of C-{(0,0)} is Z,the integers.) Hence there can't be an X-morphism from C to C-{(0,0)} (I forget which X it is). If there is a poly p in C[x] with no roots in C then the map x --> 1/p(x) is an X-morphism. Contradiction. Slick but not clear what it has to to with polynomials. A far cry from the motivated proof by Gauss.)

4. Abel's proof, in Crelle's Journal, of the impossibility of solving a quintic equation by radicals. Abel explores the properties that a "formula" for the root any algebraic equation must have, for example that if you replace any of its radicals by a conjugate radical, the new formula must also identically satisfy the equation, in order to deduce that the formula cannot exist Yes, it has a few correctable errors, but the idea is quite natural. (BILL's COMMENT- proof- sounds easier than what I learned, and more natural. There is an exposition in English here. I have to read this since I became a math major just to find out why there is no quintic equation.)

5. Jordan's proof of the Jordan curve theorem. His idea is to go from the theorem for polygons to then approximate the curve by a polygon and carry the proof over to the curve by a suitable limiting process. See here for a paper on Jordan's proof of the Jordan Curve theorem.

6. Godel's 1948 paper on his rotating universe solution to the Einstein Field Equations. Although his universe doesn't allow the red-shift, it DOES allow time travel! The paper is elegant, easy to read, and should be read (in my opinion) by any mathematics student. (Added later- for the paper see here)

7. Einstein's two papers on special/general relativity. There are english translations. They are both elegantly written and are much better than the later "simplifications" by text-book writers. I was amazed at how natural his ideas are and how clearly and simply they are presented in the papers. English Translation here

8. Lagrange's Analytical Mechanics. There is now an english translation. What can I say? It is beautiful. Available in English here.

9. I add "Merten's proof of Merten's theorem" to the list of natural instructive original proofs. His strategy is quite natural and the details are analytical fireworks. (BILL COMMENT- as mentioned above there is an exposition in English of Merten's proof.)

I could go on, but these are some standouts.

BILL COMMENT: So, readers, feel free to ad to this list!

BILL COMMENT: So, readers, feel free to ad to this list!