B V Gnedenko's Biography by his son

Dimitry Borisovich Gnedenko, the son of Boris Vladimirovich Gnedenko, published a very complete bibliography of his father in RT&A 12 2(45) (2017), 89-144. It contains a remarkable 1205 items. The long list is preceded by a biography of B V Gnedenko. Below we give a version of that biography in which we have tried to provide a better English translation.

Boris Vladimirovich Gnedenko

Boris Vladimirovich Gnedenko was born on 1 January (according to the new style) in 1912 in Simbirsk (now Ulyanovsk).

His grandfather, Vasily Ksenofontovich Gnedenko (born 1850) and grandmother Anastasia Izotovna (born 1854) (both on his father's side) were peasants from the Poltava province who had moved to Kazan Province in the seventies of the 19th century, where they received land in the village Bazarny Matak, Spassky district. They had four children: Mikhail (born 1879), Vladimir (1886-1939), Sergei (born 1889) and Anna (born 1893).

Boris Vladimirovich's father, Vladimir Vasilyevich Gnedenko, graduated from the land management school and worked as a land surveyor. Boris Vladimirovich's mother, Maria Stepanovna (1886-1961), was born in Kostroma. She graduated from the gymnasium (seven-year college), in which she received a musical specialisation (piano playing), which gave her the right to teach music. His brother, Gleb Vladimirovich, who was born on 1 November 1909, was killed on 27 October 1943 when crossing the Dnieper in the Dnipropetrovsk region.

In 1915 the family moved to Kazan, where simultaneously with working as a land surveyor, from the autumn of 1916 Vladimir Vasilievich became a student in the Faculty of Physics and Mathematics of the university. In the spring of 1918, on the false denunciation of one of his colleagues, Vladimir Vasilievich was arrested and spent more than six months in a concentration camp near Kazan. His health was severely undermined, and upon his return home he was forced to give up his studies as a student.

In the autumn of the same 1918, Boris Vladimirovich (BV) entered elementary school. As he himself writes in his memoirs:
Everything would have been fine if there were no arithmetic. I really did not like arithmetic, although I added, subtracted, multiplied and divided quite well. I was fond of poetry.
On 4 April 1922, Vladimir Vasilyevich was again arrested, and he spent more than three months in State Political Directorate prison. He was released on 12 July. Staying in Kazan was dangerous, so the family moved to Galich in September, where Vladimir Vasilievich began to work as a senior land surveyor. With the arrival of the family in Galich, the recruitment to the schools was completed, and in that year 'Mom' dealt with Boris and his brother Gleb.
Mom learned the programme and began to engage with us so that we did not fall behind. We got a textbook on grammar, Kiselev's arithmetic, Ivanov's textbook of geography. I read with special pleasure the textbook of geography and learnt the rules of grammar of the Russian language. ... In the summer I was enrolled in school with my brother in the same sixth grade.
In April 1925 the family moved to Saratov. This was due to the fact that the parents began to worry about the further education of their children, who, two years later, had to finish school (at that time secondary education was nine years).

In Saratov, the brothers were enrolled in school No. 3, a former 'real school'. It turned out that they were seriously behind in chemistry and mathematics. In the autumn, they were assigned re-examinations in these subjects. This proved to be very useful.
We were able to think through all the material on mathematics and chemistry, solve a lot of the dozens of problems, and in the autumn, thanks to this, the re-examination was successful. Moreover, chemistry and mathematics began to be perceived completely freely, the tasks did not cause any difficulties, and I began to solve problems immediately in my mind as soon as I recognised the condition. In mathematics and chemistry, I moved to the top of the class. My classmates started to contact me for help. Mathematics began to please me. ... I liked to study, to read books and, in addition, to solve non-standard problems. ... I got a collection of competitive tasks set for the entrance examinations to the Petrograd Institute of Railway Engineers. No problem from this collection caused me difficulties ... I realised that I wanted to study further and I would seek this right. I carefully studied the rules for admission to universities in the country and everywhere I came across one requirement that I did not satisfy - the incoming student must be 17 years old, I was only 15. ... My brother wanted to become either an engineer or a physicist, and I dreamed of shipbuilding. I even sent a letter to the Leningrad Shipbuilding Institute asking them to admit me to entrance examinations when fifteen years old.
From the city on the Neva (Leningrad) BV received a refusal to the request in this letter. Then he sent a letter to the People's Commissar for Education, A V Lunacharsky, with a request to allow him to enter Saratov University. By the start of the entrance examinations, permission was given.

From the autumn of 1927, BV was a student of the Physics and Mathematics Faculty of the Saratov University.
In May 1930 we were told that we would be engaged all summer long, so that in September we would go to work places. It was decided to organise an accelerated release. ... The examinations were handed over, and in mid-August we received documents about the graduation from Saratov University. I felt neither joy nor satisfaction from this. I understood that a flawed education had been received and many efforts must be made to rectify the situation.
One of the university professors who taught BV, Professor Georgy Petrovich Boev, was at this time invited to manage the chair of mathematics in the Textile Institute, organised in Ivanovo-Voznesensk and, in turn, invited BV to the post of assistant of this department.

In Ivanovo-Voznesensk BV taught and dealt with the application of mathematical methods in the textile business. Here he wrote his first work on the theory of mass service, here BV was carried away by the theory of probability. This period of activity played a huge role in his formation as a scientist and a teacher.

Realising the need to deepen their mathematical knowledge, in 1934 BV entered the graduate school of the Faculty of Mechanics and Mathematics of Moscow State University. His scientific supervisors were A Ya Khinchin and A N Kolmogorov.

In postgraduate study BV was fascinated by limit theorems for sums of independent random variables. On 23 June 1937 he defended his thesis on the topic On some results on the theory of infinitely divisible distributions, and from 1 September of the same year he became a junior research fellow at the Institute of Mathematics of Moscow State University.

In the works of A Ya Khinchin and G M Bavli established that the class of possible limit distributions for sums of independent random variables coincides with the class of infinitely divisible distributions. It remained to clarify the conditions for the existence of limit distributions and the conditions for convergence to each possible limiting distribution. The merit of posing and solving these problems belongs to B V Gnedenko. To solve the problems that had arisen, BV proposed an original method, called the method of accompanying infinitely divisible laws (the idea of the method appeared in October 1937 and was published in the "Reports of the Academy of Sciences of the USSR" in 1938). He devised a single method to obtain all the results previously found in this field, as well as a number of new ones.

On the night of the 5th to the 6th of December 1937, Boris Vladimirovich was arrested. He was shown a far-fetched charge of counter-revolutionary activity and participation in a counterrevolutionary group headed by Professor A N Kolmogorov. He was taken for interrogation, and during one interrogation he was not allowed to sleep for eight days. They demanded that he signed papers confirming the accusations. Boris Vladimirovich did not sign anything for which he, A N Kolmogorov or anyone else, could be blamed. In late May 1938, he and a number of others were released.

From the autumn of 1938, BV became an Associate Professor of the Department of Probability, Faculty of Mechanics and Mathematics, Moscow State University, and the Academic Secretary of the Institute of Mathematics of Moscow State University. From this period come the works of B V Gnedenko, in which two important problems are solved. The first one concerned the construction of asymptotic distributions of the maximal term of the variational series, elucidation of the nature of the limiting distributions and the conditions for them to converge. The second problem concerned the construction of a theory of corrections to the indications of Geiger-Muller counters used in many fields of physics and technology.

On 28 May 1941, BV defended his doctoral dissertation, consisting of two parts: the theory of summation and the theory of the maximal term of the variational series.

During the Great Patriotic War, BV took an active part in solving numerous tasks related to the defence of the country.

In February 1945, Boris Vladimirovich was elected a Corresponding Member of the Academy of Sciences of the Ukrainian SSR and sent by the Presidium of the Academy of Sciences of the Ukrainian SSR to Lviv to restore the work of Lviv University.

In Lviv, BV delivered a variety of lecture courses: mathematical analysis, calculus of variations, theory of analytic functions, probability theory, mathematical statistics, etc., and, in the final formulation, proved the local limit theorem for independent, identically distributed lattice summands (1948), and began research on nonparametric methods of statistics . Studying in Lviv, there were talented students: E L Rvacheva (Yushchenko), Yu P Studnev, I D Quit, etc.

The course of lectures on probability theory served as a basis for Boris Vladimirovich to write the textbook Course of the theory of probability (1949). This book has been published many times in different countries and is one of the main textbooks on probability theory in our days. In the same years he, together with A N Kolmogorov, wrote the monograph Limit distributions for sums of independent random variables (1949), for which the authors were awarded the P L Chebyshev Prize of the USSR Academy of Sciences (1951). Together with A Ya Khinchin, BV wrote Elementary introduction to the theory of probability (1946), which, in turn, ran to many editions in the USSR and abroad (the 12th Russian-language edition was published in 2012 by the publishing house "Editorial URSS"). In addition, Boris Vladimirovich wrote the remarkable book Essays on the History of Mathematics in Russia (1946) (the 4th edition of this book was published in 2009 by the Publishing House "Librocom").

In 1948, BV was elected academician of the Academy of Sciences of the Ukrainian SSR, and in 1950 the Presidium of the Academy of Sciences of the Ukrainian SSR transferred him to Kiev. Here he headed the Department of Probability Theory, which had just been created at the Institute of Mathematics of the Academy of Sciences of the Ukrainian SSR, and, at the same time, began to head the chair of probability theory and algebra at the University of Kiev. Very soon a group of young people, interested in probability theory and mathematical statistics, formed around him. BV's first Kiev students were V S Korolyuk, V S Mikhalevich and A V Skorokhod.

At this time BV was very occupied with his work and gave many of his students and colleagues tasks connected with checking the homogeneity of the two samples. V S Korolyuk, V S Mikhalevich, E L Rvacheva (Yushchenko), Yu P Studnev et al received serious results in this field.

At the end of 1953 BV was sent to the German Democratic Republic to lecturing at the Humboldt University in Berlin; he spent the whole of 1954 there. During this time, BV managed to interest a large group of young German mathematicians (D Koenig, I Kirstan, K Mattes, V Richter, G- I Rossberg, etc.) with problems of probability theory and mathematical statistics. The Government of the German Democratic Republic awarded Boris Vladimirovich the Order of Merit for the Fatherland in silver (1968), and the University of Humboldt elected him an honorary doctor.

Returning at the end of 1954 to Kiev, BV, on behalf of the Presidium of the Academy of Sciences of the Ukrainian SSR, led the work on the organisation of the Computing Centre. A collective was created, which included employees of the laboratory of Academician S A Lebedev, the creator of the first computer in continental Europe, known as MESM (small electronic computer). The laboratory by this time was headed by its oldest employees, E A Shkabara and L N Dashevsky. S A Lebedev has already moved to Moscow, where he was entrusted with the organisation of the Institute of Precision Mechanics and Computing. This team also included mathematicians, among whom, in the first place, should be mentioned V S Korolyuk, E L Yushchenko and I B Pogrebyskogo. Work began on designing a universal machine "Kiev" and a specialised machine for solving systems of linear algebraic equations.

At the same time BV began to teach a computer programming course at the university and headed the work on writing a textbook on programming. This course (the first in the USSR book on programming in the open press) was published in Moscow in 1961 (the authors were B V Gnedenko, V S Korolyuk, E L Yushchenko). At the same time (1955) the Presidium of the Academy of Sciences of the Ukrainian SSR assigned to B V Gnedenko duties of the director of the Institute of Mathematics of the Academy of Sciences of the Ukrainian SSR and the chairman of the bureau of the physico-mathematical branch of the Academy of Sciences of the Ukrainian SSR.

During this period, Boris Vladimirovich began to develop two new areas of applied scientific research; the theory of queues (TEM) and the application of mathematical methods in medicine.

To the first he attracted I N Kovalenko, T P Maryanovich, N V Yarovitsky, S M Brody, and others. They applied methods of TEM to the calculation of electrical networks of industrial enterprises. In 1959, Lectures on queueing theory (issue 1) was published. Then came the issues 2 (1960), issues 3 (1963, together with I N Kovalenko). These books served as the basis for the monograph Introduction to queueing theory (1966), written by B V Gnedenko and I N Kovalenko.

The second direction is connected with the development of an electronic diagnostician for heart diseases. B V Gnedenko, N M Amosov, E A Shkabara and M A Kulikov worked on this problem. In early 1960, the assembly of the world's first diagnostician was completed.

Having moved to Moscow in July 1960, Boris Vladimirovich resumed his work at the Faculty of Mechanics and Mathematics of Moscow State University. Work again completely occupied him: delivering a variety of lecture courses, dealing with new students, and having new duties.

In the year of Boris Vladimirovich's fiftieth birthday (1962), Andrei Kolmogorov wrote in the journal "Theory of Probability and its Applications":
Academician of the Academy of Sciences of the Ukrainian SSR Boris Gnedenko is one of the most outstanding mathematicians currently working in the field of probability theory. He combines an exceptionally subtle possession of the methods of classical analysis with an understanding of the broad contemporary problems of probability theory and with a constant interest in its applications.
In 1961, BV together with Ya M Sorin, Yu K Belyaev, A D Soloviev, Ya B Shore, L Ya Shuhgalter organised a seminar on reliability at the Polytechnic Museum, which has worked effectively for many years. Soon there was a need to organise a separate seminar specifically on the mathematical methods of reliability theory. This seminar began to operate at the Faculty of Mechanics and Mathematics of Moscow State University under the direction of B V Gnedenko, A D Solovyev, Yu K Belyaev and I Kovalenko, who at that time worked in Moscow. The seminar on mathematical methods in reliability theory ran regularly until the end of the eighties. He helped in the scientific sense to support many of its participants, now widely known as experts in the field of reliability, such as E Yu Barzilovich, V A Kashtanov, I A Ushakov, etc. This seminar influenced, in turn, its leaders, and encouraged B V Gnedenko, Yu K Belyaev and A D Solovyov to write the monograph Mathematical methods in the theory of reliability. Fundamental characteristics of reliability and their statistical analysis (1965). For a series of works in the field of reliability BV, together with the closest assistants, was awarded the USSR State Prize in 1979.

In connection with reliability problems, BV again returned to the study of limit theorems for sums of independent random variables, but already for a random number. To this line of research BV attracted many of his students. For these works, in 1982 he was awarded the M V Lomonosov Prize, first degree, and in 1986, the prize of the Ministry of Higher Education of the USSR.

BV did not cease to be interested in the history of mathematics, having interested his students in this line of work. In various domestic and foreign journals, his articles on this line of research were published, and his "On the history of the basic concepts of the theory of probability" (1986) gives the most complete picture of his views on the history of this science.

Together with A I Markushevich, BV supervised the seminar on pre-education in secondary school. He closely cooperated with the editions of the journals "Bulletin of Higher School" and "Mathematics in School". In these and many foreign journals, in the collections of the Scientific and Methodological Council of the USSR Ministry of Higher Education, he published a large number of articles on various aspects of teaching. On the same issues, BV in those years also wrote several books.

In January 1966, A N Kolmogorov gave B V Gnedenko leadership of the Department of Probability Theory of the Faculty of Mechanics and Mathematics of Moscow State University. He was head of this department until the last days of his life.

While still working in Lviv, BV spent a lot of time and effort working with the society "Znanie" (Knowledge). [This Society was founded in 1947 as the All-Union Society for the Dissemination of Political and Scientific Knowledge and has been known as Znanie since 1963.] Since 1949 he has been consistently elected chairman of the regional board of the society, he headed the republican physico-mathematical section of society, he was a member of the Presidium of the Board of the All-Union Society "Znanie", chairman of the Moscow State University branch of "Znanie".

BV was a member of the editorial boards of a number of domestic and foreign journals, was a member of the Royal Statistical Society (Great Britain), was elected an Honorary Doctor of Berlin University, an Honorary Doctor of the University of Athens, University of Economics and Business.

In the last years of life, knowing the severe diagnosis of his doctors, BV continued to lead the department, proposed and implemented the idea of creating, in the Faculty of Mechanics and Mathematics, an economic specialisation and training in its framework for specialists in the field of actuarial and financial mathematics. In addition, he outlined a list of books that needed to written in the remaining time. And he wrote. Finally blinded, he dictated, but he fulfilled his intended aim.

On 27 December 1995 Boris Vladimirovich left us. He is buried in the Kuntsevo cemetery in Moscow.

David Kendall and Yu.M. Suhov in the obituary, Boris Vladimirovitch Gnedenko (Bernoulli 3 (1) 1997, 121-122) wrote:
His death marks the end of a magnificent and fruitful era that forever transformed the theory of probability and significantly expanded its horizons and the number of its applications.
B V Gnedenko left a lot of students. Among them are academicians and corresponding members of various academies, professors and associate professors. In their memory remain, unforgettable days of familiarising themselves with science and independent creativity under the guidance of a great scientist and teacher, and the hours of direct communication with a man of great erudition and high culture.

Last Updated March 2021