Notices of the International Consortium of Chinese Mathematicians

Volume 9 (2021)

Number 1

My life and times with the sporadic simple groups

Pages: 11 – 46



Robert L. Griess, Jr. (Department of Mathematics, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Mich., U.S.A.)


Five sporadic simple groups were proposed in the 19th century and 21 additional ones arose during the period 1965–1975. Since the early 1950s, there has been much thought about the nature of finite simple groups and how sporadic groups are placed in mathematics. While in mathematics graduate school at The University of Chicago, I became fascinated with the unfolding story of sporadic simple groups. It involved multiple theories, detective work and experiments. In this article, I shall describe some of the people, important ideas and evolution of thinking about sporadic simple groups. Most should be accessible to a general mathematical audience.

This article is based on (remote) lecture and slides for Mathematical Science Literature lecture series, Harvard University, 1–3pm, 6 May, 2020, https://cmsa.fas.harvard. edu/literature-lecture-series/; a video of my lecture is available on This version is expected to appear in Notices of the International Congress of Chinese Mathematicians, July 2021; then later in Literature and history on mathematical science, a book published jointly and annually by CMSA, Harvard and YMSC, Tsinghua university.

Published 18 October 2021