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Raoul Bott

Raoul Bott

Hungarian-born mathematician


Raoul Bott's father was a Roman Catholic of Austrian descent, while his mother was Jewish of Hungarian descent. His parents split up soon after he was born and he was brought up by his mother as a Catholic. His mother remarried and Raoul lived with his mother and step father, who was a German speaking Czech, in Slovakia. His early education was not a great success, and he certainly did not show the great potential that, with hindsight, we can now say that he must have had. In fact he showed more promise at using his hands than at the more academic side of education. Even as a very young boy he began experimenting with electricity and building pieces of electrical apparatus.

If his early education was not successful it was certainly not because he lacked opportunities. He lived in a luxurious villa, was looked after by English governesses, and as a consequence spoke perfect English from a young age. He was also given music lessons, and indeed singing was one of the highlights of his achievements at school. In 1935, when Raoul was eleven years old, his mother died. This was a shattering experience for the young boy who continued to show enthusiasm for playing with electricity with his friend Tomy Hornak. In an interview recorded in [11] Bott said:-

Bott's step father remarried and then he had two step parents. The political situation was beginning to look serious when in May 1938 Hitler announced his 'unqualified decision' to destroy Czechoslovakia. In September, Britain and France advised Czechoslovakia to accept Hitler's terms. Bott's step parents were under no illusions about where things were heading during 1938 and they sent the fifteen year old boy to a boarding school in England where he might be safer. After Bott spent a year in England, the family emigrated to Canada where he prepared for university entrance during a year of study in Ontario.

In the autumn of 1941 Bott entered McGill University in Montreal where he took what for him was a natural course. His interest in electricity from a young age meant that he took courses supporting his main topic of electrical engineering. He said that, at McGill, he fell in with the [9]:-


September 24, 1923
Raoul Bott was born in Budapest.


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