Unappreciated Exposition

During my time in China, I often had a conversation with various people about the completion of the Elliott classification program for nuclear C*-algebras. Often, the main question was: Who’s going to write the book on the topic? The general answer seemed to be no one. Despite the usefulness of a good exposition on the subject, it seems that there is no incentive for writing such a book. And there is no incentiveĀ because no math department will consider such a book to be a worthwhile research accomplishment. And my chain of whys comes to a sudden halt here. I don’t know why expositionary work wouldn’t be rewarded (or even if this is always true). The effort to read the proofs and to write a text for a slightly more general audience (by which I mean, more than the handful of people responsible for the proof) is not worth the opportunity cost of conducting original research.

It may be the case that this is a particular problem in my field. I recall in my undergraduate days there was an attempt to write an exposition of the classification of finite simple groups (a much more difficult project, I presume). This may have more to do with where C*-algebras are right now, rather than being a permanent feature. Honestly, I don’t know, but it is disappointing to me that exposition of “known” results is less significant than even marginal original research.


About minimalrho
Unemployed guy with a PhD in math.

2 Responses to Unappreciated Exposition

  1. gaurish says:

    Though I disagree with many of view points if GH Hardy, I really like his belief of writing expository books when one crosses 40 years of age (this ideology lead to fantastic books on Number Theory, Divergent Series etc.) . Unlike research work, writing exposition needs nice grip of language (in which you are going to write) apart from your knowledge of the subject itself. Authors like Ian Stewart, David Cox, Daniel Marcus, James Munkres,… have written nice expositions within and outside their field of research.

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