The Unabomber: A Dark Tale in the History of Mathematics

Ted Kaczynski was a man of contradictions. Despite his impressive educational background, including a Ph.D. in mathematics from the University of Michigan, Kaczynski chose to live a solitary life in a remote cabin in Montana. However, this peaceful existence was shattered when Kaczynski became the infamous “Unabomber,” carrying out a bombing campaign that lasted nearly 20 years. In this article, we examine Kaczynski’s life and delve into his connection to mathematics, his ideologies, and the legacy he left behind.

Ted Kaczynski: A Mathematical Genius 

Ted Kaczynski was born in 1942 and showed an early aptitude for mathematics. He was accepted into Harvard University at the age of 16 and went on to earn a Ph.D. in mathematics from the University of Michigan.

His Ph.D. thesis, “Boundary Functions,” was so complex that only a few people in the country were able to understand it. Kaczynski worked as an assistant professor at UC Berkeley, where he focused on geometric function theory. 

Despite his academic success, Kaczynski struggled with social isolation and grew increasingly disillusioned with society. In 1969, he resigned from his teaching position and retreated to a remote cabin in Montana.

A color landscape photograph of Ted Kaczynski as a student with a façade of a white building behind him.
Ted Kaczynski in 1968 an Assistant Professor at UC Berkley. Image credit: George Bergman, GFDL 1.2, via Wikimedia Commons.

The Unabomber’s Terror Campaign 

Kaczynski lived in his cabin for over 20 years, becoming increasingly isolated and obsessed with mathematics. However, his background in mathematics also allowed him to construct sophisticated bombs that were difficult to detect, which he used in a bombing campaign (1978 – 1995) that targeted universities, airlines, and individuals involved in technology. This violent crusade resulted in three deaths and 23 injuries, earning Kaczynski the name “Unabomber.” 

The Manifesto, Capture, and Legacy 

Kaczynski’s bombing campaign was rooted in his belief that technology and industrialization were destroying the environment and human freedom. In 1995, he sent a 35,000-word manifesto to various newspapers, calling for a return to a simpler way of life. The manifesto, titled “Industrial Society and Its Future,” shocked the public and the media, who were horrified to learn that a highly educated individual with a Ph.D. in mathematics could engage in such acts of terrorism. Kaczynski’s brother recognized the writing style and alerted authorities, leading to his arrest in 1996.

Despite Kaczynski’s past, his mathematical contributions cannot be entirely ignored. Scholars continue to study his work, leading to an ongoing debate about separating the man from his academic achievements.  

A color landscape photograph of the cabin near Lincoln, Montana. The cabin is off the left with an open space filled with some snow to the right of it. The background is a dark green forest.
The cabin near Lincoln, Montana.
Image credit: Federal Bureau of Investigation, public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.
A color photograph of three pieces of shrapnel from one of Kaczynski’s bombs. All of the pieces are placed concave up on a blue background
Shrapnel from one of Kaczynski’s bombs.
Image credit: Federal Bureau of Investigation, public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.
A color forward facing Kaczynski’s mugshot. He has a light mixed gray and black beard. He is wearing an orange jumpsuit. His black medium guy length hair just touching 60 inches.
Kaczynski’s mugshot.
Image credit: United States Marshal Service, public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Engaging the Public with the History of Mathematics 

The story of Ted Kaczynski highlights the complex relationship between intellect, mental health, and morality. By examining the intersection between mathematics and crime, this article hopes to engage the public with the history of mathematics and spark curiosity about the diverse world of mathematics.  

Kaczynski’s tale serves as a reminder of how a brilliant mind can be led astray and the devastating consequences that can result. 

Arina Bekenova


Printed Primary Sources

Chase, A. (2004). A mind for murder: The education of the Unabomber and the origins of modern terrorism. WW Norton & Company.

Secondary Sources

Dunleavy, B. (2018). What happened to the Unabomber at Harvard? Retrieved from Accessed 16 March 2023.

Song, D. (2012). Theodore J. Kaczynski. The Harvard Crimson.

Stampfl, K. (2006). He came Ted Kaczinsky, he left The Unabomber.The Michigan Daily. March 16 2006.

Internet Sources

FBI. Unabomber [Online]. Available at: (Accessed: 17 March 2023).

Gold Coast Bulletin. (2016.). Remember when the FBI suddenly arrested Dr. Theodore Kaczynski, the infamous Unabomber? Gold Coast Bulletin. Retrieved March 17, 2023, from

Ray, M. (2023). “Ted Kaczynski”. Encyclopedia Britannica, Accessed 16 March 2023.

Veisdal, J. (2021). The mathematics of Ted Kaczynski. Retrieved March 18, 2023, from

Further Reading – Ted Kaczynski

Kaczynski, T.J., 1995. Industrial society and its future.

Kaczynski, T.J., 1967. Boundary functions. University of Michigan.

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