Making French Bread: Why Are France's Math Graduates in Such Demand?

Photograph by Paolo Verzone for TIME

Old school A classroom at the Institut Henri Poincaré in Paris

There's an old joke about the French: A guy gives a plan to a Frenchman. He looks at it, shakes his head and says, "Well, that probably works fine in practice, but how does it work in theory?"

It's a jab at France's deep-seated preference for the abstract over the concrete, which can make the French a bit frustrating to deal with if you're, say, trying to get a cup of coffee in a café or watching a French art-house film. But it makes them second to none if you're doing complex math or trading obscure...

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