I've took an introductory course on Algebraic Number Theory during my Master's, which I really enjoyed. Now that I'm beginning to think about my PhD area, I wonder if I shouldn't go for something in that direction.

However, as in practically all courses I've taken, I was too busy trying to understand definitions and theorems, having little time left (or not enough knowledge) to understand the historical development or the research perspectives on the subject.

Is Algebraic Number Theory still an active area of research? I ask this because almost everything I read or hear about number theory from recent years seems to involve analytic methods (harmonic analysis, probability, ergodic theory etc.), which are not really my cup of tea.

Since I'm a more algebra-driven guy (meaning I'm instinctly attracted to things like Commutative Algebra, Algebraic Geometry, Galois Theory and, of course, Algebraic Number Theory), I wish there were still active lines of research in Number Theory using actual algebraic methods, at least for the most part.

I know this question is rather vague, but that's how well I'm able to articulate it right now, so any advice, insights, reading suggestions etc. would be greatly appreciated.

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    $\begingroup$ One point is that the name of the subject is chronically misleading: it is really "the theory of algebraic numbers", not "algebraic theory of numbers". That is, the basic results do need some analytical features, from complex analysis and some form of harmonic analysis. The applicability of those ideas is what distinguishes rings of algebraic integers from generic commutative rings, even from generic Dedekind domains, etc., for which the usual number theory results will not hold. $\endgroup$ May 5, 2018 at 18:23
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    $\begingroup$ I second what Paul said above, but also of course. My department is chock full of algebraic number theorists $\endgroup$
    – Exit path
    May 5, 2018 at 18:27
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    $\begingroup$ @Stephen I think it's okay to want to work in a field where certain methods are used. For example I find many questions in differential geometry fascinating but I prefer the style of argumentation in algebraic geometry $\endgroup$
    – Exit path
    May 5, 2018 at 18:30
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    $\begingroup$ @lhf, ah, yes, I thought I'd seen such a question somewhere... $\endgroup$ May 5, 2018 at 18:51
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    $\begingroup$ @rmdmc89 I too find myself in the EXACT same shoes as you and I enjoy more of the algebraic topics, as you mentioned. I don't mind some analytic method but as you mentioned it isn't my cup of tea. It appears that you have decided to go with Algebraic Number Theory/Arithmetic Geometry based on your recent posts. If you don't mind could you share your current experience with the same and whether that really suited your algebraic preference? Could you also mention your reason for going with Number Theory side as opposed to the "pure" Commutative Algebraic side? Thanks in advance! $\endgroup$
    – user600016
    Nov 30, 2021 at 6:25

1 Answer 1


Nowadays, the distinction between algebraic and analytic number theory is not in the proofs, but in the questions you are trying to answer. Analytic number theory asks questions like "how are the primes distributed on the number line?" Algebraic number theory asks questions like "how do primes split in a given extension of number fields?"

Many questions in algebraic number theory are hard to answer just by using algebra. There has been an enormous amount of insight gained by bringing in analytic techniques. For example, there is no known proof just using algebra that there are no nontrivial unramified extensions of $\mathbb Q$. But the Minkowski bound for the discriminant shows that it is never trivial.

There are some deep questions about integer solutions to polynomial equations which have only been answered by connecting them to modular forms. More generally, the representations and associated L-functions of reductive groups are expected to yield considerable arithmetic insight once the Langlangs Program is complete. This seems to be the most promising direction for the future of algebraic number theory.

If you love algebraic number theory, I would recommend embracing the analytic techniques with the algebraic ones. When you're really doing this kind of math, you won't be able to distinguish whether you are doing algebra or analysis. If you truly dislike analysis, you might be better off doing something like commutative algebra.


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