The life and work of Major Percy Alexander MacMahon

Garcia, Paul (2006). The life and work of Major Percy Alexander MacMahon. PhD thesis The Open University.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.21954/ou.ro.0000e97e

Abstract

This thesis describes the life and work of the mathematician Major Percy Alexander MacMahon (1854 - 1929). His early life as a soldier in the Royal Artillery and events which led to him embarking on a career in mathematical research and teaching are dealt with in the first two chapters. Succeeding chapters explain the work in invariant theory and partition theory which brought him to the attention of the British mathematical community and eventually resulted in a Fellowship of the Royal Society, the presidency of the London Mathematical Society, and the award of three prestigious mathematical medals and four honorary doctorates. The development and importance of his recreational mathematical work is traced and discussed. MacMahon's career in the Civil Service as Deputy Warden of the Standards at the Board of Trade is also described. Throughout the thesis, his involvement with the British Association for the Advancement of Science and other scientific organisations is highlighted. The thesis also examines possible reasons why MacMahon's work, held in very high regard at the time, did not lead to the lasting fame accorded to some of his contemporaries. Details of his personal and social life are included to give a picture of MacMahon as a real person working hard to succeed in a difficult context.

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