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Eric Temple Bell
Born February 7, 1883(1883-02-07)
Peterhead, Scotland
Died December 21, 1960 (aged 77)
Watsonville, California
Residence United States United States of America
Nationality Scotland Scottish
Fields Mathematics
Institutions University of Washington
California Institute of Technology
Alma mater Stanford University
Columbia University (Ph.D.)
Doctoral advisor Frank Nelson Cole
Cassius Keyser
Doctoral students Howard Percy Robertson
Morgan Ward
Known for Number theory
Bell series
Bell polynomials
Bell numbers
Notable awards Bôcher Memorial Prize (1924)

Eric Temple Bell (February 7, 1883 – December 21, 1960), was a mathematician and science fiction author born in Scotland who lived in the U.S. for most of his life. He published his non-fiction under his given name and his fiction as John Taine.



He was born in Peterhead, Scotland, but his father, a fish-factor, moved to San Jose, California in 1884, when he was fifteen months old. The family returned to Bedford, England after his father's death, on January 4, 1896. Bell returned to the United States, by way of Montreal in 1902.

Bell attended Stanford University and Columbia University (where he was a student of Cassius Jackson Keyser) and was on the faculty first at the University of Washington and later at the California Institute of Technology.

He did research in number theory; see in particular Bell series. He attempted—not altogether successfully—to make the traditional umbral calculus (understood at that time to be the same thing as the "symbolic method" of Blissard) logically rigorous. He also did much work using generating functions, treated as formal power series, without concern for convergence. He is the eponym of the Bell polynomials and the Bell numbers of combinatorics.[1] In 1924 he was awarded the Bôcher Memorial Prize for his work in mathematical analysis. He died in Watsonville, California.

Fiction and poetry

In the early 1920s, Bell wrote several long poems. He also wrote several science fiction novels, which independently invented some of the earliest devices and ideas of science fiction.[2] Only The Purple Sapphire was published at the time, under the pseudonym John Taine; this was before Hugo Gernsback and the genre publication of science fiction. His novels were published later, both in book form and serialized in the magazines.

Writing about mathematics

Men of Mathematics by E.T. Bell

Bell wrote a book of biographical sketches titled Men of Mathematics, (one chapter of which was the first popular account of the 19th century woman mathematician Sofia Kovalevskaya) and which is still in print. The book inspired many people to take up mathematics, though later historians of mathematics have disputed the accuracy of much of Bell's history. Bell romanticized Évariste Galois. His treatment of Georg Cantor, which reduced his relationships with his father and with Leopold Kronecker to stereotypes, has been even more severely criticized.[3]

Bell's later book, Development of Mathematics has been less famous, but Constance Reid finds it has many fewer weaknesses. The Last Problem is a hybrid, between a social history and a history of mathematics.



Non-fiction books

  • An Arithmetical Theory of Certain Numerical Functions, Seattle Washington, The University, 1915, 50p. PDF/DjVu copy from Internet Archive.
  • The Cyclotomic Quinary Quintic, Lancaster, Pennsylvania, The New Era Printing Company, 1912, 97p.
  • Algebraic Arithmetic, New York, American Mathematical Society, 1927, 180p.
  • Debunking Science, Seattle, University of Washington book store, 1930, 40p.
  • The Search for Truth, Baltimore, Reynal and Hitchcock, 1934, 279p.
    • Reprint: Williams and Wilkins Co, 1935
  • Man and His Lifebelts, New York, Reynal & Hitchcock, 1938, 340p.
    • Reprint: George Allen & Unwin Ltd, 1935, 2nd printing 1946
    • Reprint: Kessinger Publishing, 2005
  • Men of Mathematics, New York, Simon and Schuster, 1937, 592p.
  • The Development of Mathematics, New York, McGraw–Hill, 1945, 637p.
    • Reprint: New York, McGraw–Hill, 1945
    • Reprint: Dover Publications, 1992
  • The Magic of Numbers, Whittlesey House, 1946, 418p.
    • Reprint: New York, Dover Publications, 1991, ISBN 0-486-26788-1, 418p.
    • Reprint: Sacred Science Institute, 2006
  • Mathematics: Queen and Servant of Science (1951)
  • The Last Problem, New York, Simon and Schuster, 1961, 308p.
  • Numerology, Hyperion Press, 1979, ISBN 0-88355-774-6, 195p.
  • Queen Of The Sciences

Scholarly papers

  • [This subsection needs attention.]



  • The Singer (1916)


  • "Time makes fools of us all. Our only comfort is that greater shall come after us."[1]


  1. ^ He is not the eponym of the "bell curve", which is so called because of its apparent similarity in shape to the cross-section of a bell.
  2. ^ Reid, Constance (1993). The Search for E.T. Bell, also known as John Taine. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-88385-508-9. OCLC 29190602. ""Most fiction writers are, after all, primarily fiction writers," he [Glenn Hughes, professor of English literature] wrote of Bell. "Some of them may show a trifle more finesse in plot handling or characterization, but none of them surpasses Bell in grandness of conception or accuracy of detail. One has always the uncanny feeling that [he] is dealing in probabilities, and that many of his most extravagant dreams are but pre-visions of nightmares in store for the human race."  
  3. ^ See chiefly Ivor Grattan-Guinness (1971) "Towards a Biography of Georg Cantor," Annals of Science 27: 345–91.


  • Constance Reid. The Search for E.T. Bell, Also Known as John Taine. Washington, DC, Mathematical Association of America, 1993, ISBN 0-88385-508-9, x, 372p.
  • Tuck, Donald H. (1974). The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction and Fantasy. Chicago: Advent. pp. 36. ISBN 0-911682-20-1.  

External links


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