Robin Wilson (mathematician)

Robin James Wilson (born 5 December 1943) is an emeritus professor in the Department of Mathematics at the Open University, having previously been Head of the Pure Mathematics Department and Dean of the Faculty.[1] He was a Stipendiary Lecturer at Pembroke College, Oxford[2] and, as of 2006, Professor of Geometry at Gresham College, London, where he has also been a visiting professor.[3] On occasion, he guest-teaches at Colorado College in the United States.[4]

The Honourable
Robin Wilson
Born (1943-12-05) 5 December 1943
CitizenshipUnited Kingdom
Alma materUniversity College School, Hampstead, London
University of Oxford (Balliol College)
University of Pennsylvania
Scientific career
FieldsGraph Theory
InstitutionsOpen University,
Pembroke College, Oxford, Gresham College
Doctoral advisorNesmith Ankeny
Doctoral studentsAmanda Chetwynd

Professor Wilson is a son of Harold Wilson, Baron Wilson of Rievaulx, a former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, and his wife, Mary.

Early life and education

Wilson was born in 1943 to Harold and Mary Wilson (née Baldwin). He has a younger brother, Giles, who in his 50s gave up a career as a teacher to be a train driver.[5] Wilson attended University College School in Hampstead, North London. He achieved a BA First Class Honours in Mathematics from Balliol College, Oxford, an MA from the University of Pennsylvania, a PhD from the University of Pennsylvania (1965–1968) and a BA First Class Honours in Humanities with Music from the Open University. In a Guardian interview in 2008, Wilson spoke of the fact he grew up known to everyone primarily as a son of the Labour Party leader and Prime Minister Harold Wilson: "I hated the attention and I still dislike being introduced as Harold Wilson's son. I feel uncomfortable talking about it to strangers even now."[6]

Mathematics career

Wilson's academic interests lie in graph theory, particularly in colouring problems, e.g. the four colour problem, and algebraic properties of graphs. He also researches the history of mathematics, particularly British mathematics and mathematics in the 17th century and the period 1860 to 1940 and the history of graph theory and combinatorics.

In 1974, he won the Lester R. Ford Award from the Mathematical Association of America for his expository article An introduction to matroid theory.[7][8] Due to his collaboration on a 1977 paper[9] with the Hungarian mathematician Paul Erdős, Wilson has an Erdős number of 1.

In July 2008, he published a study of the mathematical work of Lewis Carroll, the creator of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-GlassLewis Carroll in Numberland: His Fantastical Mathematical Logical Life (Allen Lane, 2008. ISBN 978-0-7139-9757-6). From January 1999 to September 2003, Wilson was editor-in-chief of the European Mathematical Society Newsletter.[10] He is President of the British Society for the History of Mathematics.[11]

Other interests

He has strong interests in music, including the operas of Gilbert and Sullivan, and is the co-author (with Frederic Lloyd) of Gilbert and Sullivan: The Official D'Oyly Carte Picture History.[12] In 2007, he was a guest on Private Passions, the biographical music discussion programme on BBC Radio 3.[13]

Personal life

Wilson is married; the couple have two daughters.[14]


Wilson has written or edited about thirty books, including popular books on sudoku and the Four Color Theorem:

  • The Turing Guide (with Jack Copeland, Jonathan Bowen, Mark Sprevak, et al.), Oxford University Press, 2017: ISBN 978-0198747826 (hardcover), ISBN 978-0198747833 (paperback)[15]
  • Combinatorics: A Very Short Introduction, Oxford University Press, 2016: ISBN 978-0-19-872349-3
  • Combinatorics: Ancient & Modern (with John Watkins), Oxford University Press, 2013: ISBN 0-19-965659-2
  • The Great Mathematicians (with Raymond Flood), Arcturus Publishing Ltd, 2011: ISBN 1-84837-902-1
  • Hidden Word Sudoku, Infinite Ideas Limited 2005: ISBN 1-904902-74-X
  • How to Solve Sudoku, Infinite Ideas Limited 2005: ISBN 1-904902-62-6
  • Sherlock Holmes in Babylon and Other Tales of Mathematical History (co-edited with Marlow Anderson and Victor J. Katz), The Mathematical Association of America, 2004: ISBN 0-88385-546-1
  • Mathematics and Music: From Pythagoras to Fractals (co-edited with John Fauvel & Raymond Flood), Oxford University Press, 2003: ISBN 0-19-851187-6
  • Four Colours Suffice: How the Map Problem Was Solved, Allen Lane (Penguin), 2002: ISBN 0-7139-9670-6
  • Stamping through Mathematics, Springer, 2001: ISBN 0-387-98949-8
  • Oxford Figures: 800 Years of the Mathematical Sciences (with John Fauvel & Raymond Flood), Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2000: ISBN 0-19-852309-2
  • Graphs and Applications: An Introductory Approach (with Joan Aldous), Springer, 2000: ISBN 1-85233-259-X
  • Mathematical Conversations: Selections from the Mathematical Intelligencer (with J. Gray), Springer, 2000: ISBN 0-387-98686-3
  • An Atlas of Graphs (with Ronald Read), Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1998: ISBN 0-19-853289-X (paperback edition, 2002: ISBN 0-19-852650-4)
  • Graph Theory 1736–1936 (with Norman L. Biggs and Keith Lloyd), Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1976: ISBN 0-19-853901-0


  1. "Prof Robin Wilson". UK: Open University, Department of Mathematics And Statistics. Retrieved 8 December 2013.
  2. Pembroke College website
  3. "Professor Robin Wilson". Gresham College. Retrieved 8 December 2013.
  4. "Block Visitors" (PDF). Countable Bits. The Colorado College Department of Mathematics and Computer Science. 8 (1). May 2015. Retrieved 23 June 2017.
  5. "Son of former PM Harold Wilson swaps teaching for a career as train driver". The Evening Standard. 20 November 2006. Retrieved 11 December 2019.
  6. Crace, John (2008-10-06). "Interview: Robin Wilson, mathematics professor, on his passions and father". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 2019-02-16.
  7. Paul R. Halmos – Lester R. Ford Awards, Mathematical Association of America
  8. Wilson, R. J. (1973). "An introduction to matroid theory". Amer. Math. Monthly. 80 (5): 500–525. CiteSeerX doi:10.2307/2319608. JSTOR 2319608.
  9. Erdős, P.; Wilson, Robin J. (1977). "On the chromatic index of almost all graphs". Journal of Combinatorial Theory, Series B. 23 (2–3): 255–257. doi:10.1016/0095-8956(77)90039-9.
  10. European Mathematical Society Newsletter, No 49, September 2003, ISSN 1027-488X
  11. "Professor Robin Wilson". Open University. Retrieved 8 December 2013.
  12. Knopf, 1984. ISBN 978-0-394-54113-6
  13. BBC Radio 3
  14. John Crace (7 October 2008). "Serious showman". The Guardian. Retrieved 8 December 2013.
  15. Robinson, Andrew (4 January 2017). "The Turing Guide: Last words on an enigmatic codebreaker?". New Scientist.
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