BY PHILLIP GRIFFITHS, DONALD SPENCER, AND GEORGE WHITEHEAD1
SOLOMON LEFSCHETZ was a towering figure in the mathematical world owing not only to his original contributions but also to his personal influence. He contributed to at least three mathematical fields, and his work reflects throughout deep geometrical intuition and insight. As man and mathematician, his approach to problems, both in life and in mathematics, was often breathtakingly original and creative.
Solomon Lefschetz was born in Moscow on September 3, 1884. He was a son of Alexander Lefschetz, an importer, and his wife, Vera, Turkish citizens. Soon after his birth, his parents left Russia and took him to Paris, where he grew up with five brothers and one sister and received all of his schooling. French was his native language, but he learned Russian and other languages with remarkable facility. From 1902 to 1905, he studied at the École Centrale des Arts et Manufactures, graduating in 1905 with the degree of mechanical engineer, the third youngest in a class of 220. His reasons for entering that institution were complicated, for as he said, he had been ''mathematics mad'' since he had his first contact with geometry at thirteen.