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I'm looking for the original introduction of the many-body expansion (MBE) in the scientific literature. More specifically, I'm interested in a theoretical justification of the rapid convergence of the expansion, especially in the context of molecular physics. The MBE is often introduced in scientific papers without referring to foregoing work that introduces the concept. Instead, one often states something like: "Following the well-known many-body expansion, one writes ...". See for example http://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/ct600253j. (freely available at http://t1.chem.umn.edu/Truhlar/docs/758FAV.pdf)

The many-body expansion is a scheme to decompose the energy of a general system of N particles as follows:

$$ V = \sum_{i = 1}^N V_i $$

with

$$ V_1 = \sum_{i=1}^N E_i $$

$$ V_2 = \sum_{i=1}^N \sum_{j=i+1}^N E_{ij} - E_i - E_j $$

$$ V_3 = \sum_{i=1}^N \sum_{j=i+1}^N \sum_{k=j+1}^N \biggl( (E_{ijk} - E_i - E_j - E_k) - (E_{ij} - E_i - E_j)\\ - (E_{jk} - E_j - E_k) - (E_{ki} - E_k - E_i)\biggr) $$

and so on. In these equations, $E_i$ is the energy consisting only of particle $i$, $E_{ij}$ is the energy of a system containing only particles $i$ and $j$, $E_{ijk}$ is the energy of a system with three partilces, $i$, $j$ and $k$, and so on.

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