Walter Rudin (1921 – 2010)

Yvonne Nagel photo

We have the sad news that the eminent mathematician Walter Rudin passed away on Thursday (the obituary is here).  He was born in Austria, earned his Ph.D. at Duke University in 1949, and for many years was a professor at the University of Wisconsin, Madison.  He wrote 190 research papers and books, most of them in analysis.  He was a very well known and respected mathematician.

If by chance his name doesn’t ring a bell, you might remember instead his book “Principles of Mathematical Analysis” (or “Baby Rudin” as it is affectionately known by people who took their first analysis course using it).

"Baby Rudin"

He also wrote “Big Rudin” or, as the library calls it, “Real and Complex Analysis“.  Rather recently a number of other analysis texts have appeared, but for more than one generation of mathematicians, Rudin’s name was synonomous with analysis.  To give you an idea of how his books affected people, here are some quotes from

It is not possible to overstate how good this book is. I tried to give it uncountably many stars but they only have five. Five is an insult. I’m sorry Dr. Rudin….

Now some people complain about this book being too hard. Don’t listen to them. They are just trying to pull you down and keep you from your true destiny. They are the same people who try to sell you TV’s and lobotomies….

And if you’re a student and find the book too hard? Try harder. That’s the point. If you did not crave intellectual work why are you sitting in an analysis course? Dig in. It will make you a better person. Trust me.

Or you could just change your major back to engineering. It’s more money and the books always have lots of nice pictures.

In conclusion: Thank you Dr. Rudin for your wonderfull book on analysis. You made a man of me.

— “Bolzano Bourbaki”


I recall that at the beginning of my Analysis course I hated Rudin’s book, and then after a few weeks found that I was beginning to tolerate it, even appreciate it. By the end of the course, under the tutelage of my wily professor, I came to regard the book and its author with near veneration. I still remember being forced to work through the problem sets, grumbling at the beginning, and then achieving that sense of exhilaration one feels when a dimly understood idea suddenly becomes blazingly clear, and another tantalizing idea is close behind.

— Paul J. Papanek

Even those who don’t love his books are still inspired to write poetry:

One gets the uncanny feeling that Rudin did not actually write the symbols and occasional words which grace his text, but rather recieved them, Moseslike, atop some mathematical Mt. Sinai. Imagine him descending from the heights, stone tablets in hand, irreversibly changed by his encounter with the SF, prepared to deliver the divine message to his people. But alas – at the foot of the mountain Rudin encounters a great congregation of heathen mathematicians. Poor Rudin watches in horror as these pagans unashamedly write intelligible proofs, motivate definitions, explain crucial concepts, sacrifice bulls, discuss mathematical history, etc. Shocked but still in possesion of his faculties, Rudin prepares to address these godless philistines. He raises the tablets above his head, and is on the verge of saying “Clearly,…” when out of the corner of his eyes, Rudin glimpses a wretched mathematician, dressed in filthy rags, commiting the most vile acts imaginable. At one point this base Yahoo even draws a diagram in the sand. The sight of such moral degeneracy inspires a wave a disgust in Rudin, who smashes the tablets to the ground and trudges back up the mountain. “Baby Rudin,” as the Book is affectionately (sarcastically?) referred to, is a pedagogical nightmare, yet is inexplicably (and irresponsibly) used in most undergraduate analysis courses. This is especially sad when one considers that there are several excellent elementary analysis textbooks readily available. (most notably Strichartz’ “The Way of Analysis.”) Rather than helping students understand real analysis and where (and why) it fits into the mathematical landscape, Rudin seems to offer an absurd challenge to students – “I DEFY you to learn from my textbook!”

— “robertrecorde”

Our condolences go out to his wife Mary Ellen Rudin and all his friends and colleagues at UW.

P.S.  As a side note, the Rudin’s happen to be the owners of a beautiful Frank Loyd Wright home which they bought when it was built in 1959 (click here for more pictures):

The Rudin Home


3 thoughts on “Walter Rudin (1921 – 2010)

  1. Pingback: Martin Gardner (1914 – 2010) « OU Math Club

  2. After reading many other texts in analysis, I became fully convinced that Walter Rudin was one of the worst kind of author. He never knew what is the natural development of subject? How to write a complete proof? He had destroyed my many thousand hours with little benefit. I think Rudin had not good intentions. God will punish him

  3. It is sad that rudin passed away. though i did not like his books. his principles of mathematical analysis though used ihas a better aleternative in Bartle’s book and Serge lang’s na;ysis I is just tood to use and moe general than rudin. his book on rela and complex is an example of how a book should not be. the book buries series expansions and laurent sertiess which are at heart of complex oanalysis . functional anlysis is good. also fourier nalysis ongroups function theory in polydisks!

Comments are closed.