top of page


Einstein’s Italian Mathematicians:

Ricci, Levi-Civita, and the Birth of General Relativity

In fin de siècle Padua, a cosmopolitan university town, Gregorio Ricci 
Curbastro has spent nearly a decade painstakingly working on the

subject he called the absolute differential calculus, now known as tensor calculus.

The work will ultimately rank as one of the preeminent mathematical achievements of the late 19th century, but for Ricci it has come at the cost of repeated professional and academic setbacks. Colleagues call

his algorithms useful, but not indispensable.

Now, together with his colleague Tullio Levi-Civita,  best known for his work on the absolute calculus and the prominent role it played in Einstein’s formulation of the general theory of relativity, they are putting finishing touches on a definitive seminal paper on Ricci’s absolute calculus.

Reviews & Endorsements

"The author is an outstanding specialist for the history of the absolute differential calculus and the main propagators Gregorio Ricci and Tullio Levi-Civita. Though it is not mentioned in this book, she looks back on a long publication list...This book is a special one and should be well recognized...The book can be highly recommended to all historians who are interested in the history of general relativity and its origin."

-                                                      - Karin Reich, Zentralblatt MATH

"In the hands of a gifted author, a history can read like a novel."

                                                         - J. Johnson, CHOICE

"A wonderfully written chronicle of the lives of two great mathematicians and how their work shaped Einstein's masterpiece as well as ushering in new fields of mathematics. The book is also an intriguing and insightful portrait of Italy during the period from Italian independence in 1870 until the onset of World War II."

                           - Gino Segre, Physics Department, University of Pennsylvania

"Galileo said that mathematics is the language of nature. Einstein might have found himself mute when it came to describing gravity if it weren't for the mathematics of covariant derivatives developed by Galileo's countrymen Gregorio Ricci-Curbastro and Tullio Levi-Civita. Judy Goodstein tells their stories and their connection to Einstein with clarity and grace in a most readable book."

                                               - Barry Simon, California Institute of Technology

"The theory of general relativity would never have seen the light without the absolute differential calculus invented by the Italian mathematicians Gregorio Ricci Curbastro and Tullio Levi-Civita. This wonderful book carefully examines the academic, cultural, political, and historical framework in Italy of that time, and explores the deep relation—always fed with sincere respect, admiration, and affection —between these two great mathematicians at the turn of the twentieth century."

            - Tullio Ceccherini-Silberstein, Università del Sannio, Benevento, Italy

bottom of page