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Euler's Greatness Highlighted in Wilson Quarterly

June 26, 2007

The Wilson Quarterly describes itself as an international review surveying the latest thinking in the humanities. The current (spring) issue features an article that focuses on mathematician Leonhard Euler, born 300 years ago.

Written by New York author and commentator John Derbyshire, " Euler's Constancy" presents a satisfying and eye-opening portrait of Euler's life and mathematics. The article lends credence to the case that while Euler "is seldom remembered as one of the Enlightenment greats...he should be." Euler's discoveries, Derbyshire notes, "changed the course of mathematics forever; and ...his ideas continue to resonate in classrooms and laboratories."

Derbyshire's 2003 book Prime Obsession: Bernhard Riemann and the Greatest Unsolved Problem in Mathematics was awarded the MAA's Euler Book Prize.

Mathematicians often name Archimedes, Isaac Newton, and Carl Friedrich Gauss as the elite of mathematics. In a poem that ran in Mathematics Magazine in 1997, Charlie Marion and William Dunham insisted on adding Euler to that pantheon of greats. Derbyshire makes it clear in just six pages that he agrees. Euler was responsible for a host of important mathematical advances in a wide variety of fields. And his formula linking five of the most important numbers (0, 1, i, e, and π) and three key operations (addition, multiplication, and exponentiation) in mathematics is sometimes described as the most beautiful in mathematics.

The prolific Euler was a mathematician of towering genius, Derbyshire concludes. He also " lived nobly, calmly, cheerfully, and well."

"Perhaps his unassuming nature is one reason that the nonmathematical public does not better know his name, " Derbyshire says. "Let us hope this year's tercentenary celebrations will put matters right"

Source: Wilson Quarterly (Spring 2007)

Start Date: 
Tuesday, June 26, 2007