I've just stumbled upon Gorodentsev's upcoming textbook 'Algebra I'. The description of it claims that it's very 'Russian-style'.

This book is the first volume of an intensive “Russian-style” two-year graduate course in abstract algebra, and introduces readers to the basic algebraic structures – fields, rings, modules, algebras, groups, and categories – and explains the main principles of and methods for working with them.

What does this mean? What differs 'Russian-style' from 'American-style' mathematics?

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    $\begingroup$ This is a guess, but it sounds like something akin to a style of rigor perhaps employed at Russian universities. You could perhaps read up on math and science education in the time of the Soviet Union. $\endgroup$ Oct 31, 2016 at 17:31
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    $\begingroup$ One might view "Russian style" as "math that skips steps." It can be intimidating since the steps that are skipped are implicitly viewed as being "obvious." $\endgroup$
    – Michael
    Oct 31, 2016 at 17:32
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    $\begingroup$ I would understand it as elitist and intellectually demanding, the kind of course that aims at pushing the smartest 10% of the class as far as they can be pushed, even at the cost of failing 80% -- whereas a stereotypically "American-style" course would aim at making as many students as possible pass, even at the cost of the 10% brightest only learning a tenth of what they could have achieved in a course tailored for them. $\endgroup$ Oct 31, 2016 at 17:39
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    $\begingroup$ Kolmogorov, Chebyshev, Markov, Lusin, Suslin, Egorov, Khinchin, Vinogradov, Pontryagin, ... are all great Russian mathematicians; perhaps their works would speak for Russian style. :) $\endgroup$
    – Yes
    Oct 31, 2016 at 17:41
  • $\begingroup$ The springer page also states "Challenging amount of material thoughtfully organized for deep and fast learning" maybe this is what is meant. $\endgroup$
    – PhoemueX
    Oct 31, 2016 at 19:06

1 Answer 1


Russian-style should be understood not in opposition to American-style (that's cold war stuff) but rather in opposition to French-style or more precisely Bourbaki-style. The latter emphasizes formalism even sometimes at the expense of readability. The Russian style tends to focus on the essence rather than the formalism, and emphasize what is novel. A good example of accessible, popular, and rigorous writing in the Russian-style is a typical book by Vladimir Arnold; for example, his Mathematical methods of classical mechanics, an all-time favorite.

The flip side of excessive formalism is often committing errors; this was richly illustrated in the case of Bourbaki by Adrian Mathias; see e.g., his http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2FBF03025863 .

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    $\begingroup$ "To the question "what is 2 + 3" a French primary school pupil replied: "3 + 2, since addition is commutative". He did not know what the sum was equal to and could not even understand what he was asked about!" — V. I. Arnold (in On teaching mathematics) $\endgroup$ Nov 1, 2016 at 12:40
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    $\begingroup$ Well this particular story doesn't go very far because a certain French mathematician stepped forward at MathOverflow and claimed that he was that child, and he meant it as a joke, so Arnold may have overused that example. At any rate the calamities of Bourbaki style are well-known and have recently been critiqued by Mathias; see e.g. link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2FBF03025863 @RodrigodeAzevedo $\endgroup$ Nov 1, 2016 at 12:43
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    $\begingroup$ How can a textbook claim to be for aspiring mathematicians and not be written in Bourbaki-Style? I thought formalism was the whole point of mathematics. $\endgroup$ Nov 1, 2016 at 13:51
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    $\begingroup$ @ClassicEndingMusic, as a professional mathematician I hurry to disabuse you of the notion that Bourbaki-style is obligatory or for that matter desirable; but perhaps this is a subject for a separate question. $\endgroup$ Nov 1, 2016 at 13:56

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