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Sophie's Diary

Sophie’s Diary

By Dora Musielak

Print ISBN: 978-0-88385-577-5
Electronic ISBN: 978-1-61444-510-4
291 pp., Hardbound, 2012
List Price: $43.00
Member Price: $32.25
Series: Spectrum

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Sophie Germain, the first and only woman in history to make a substantial contribution to the proof of Fermat's Last Theorem, grew up during the most turbulent years of the French Revolution. Her mathematical genius was discovered by Lagrange around 1797. Published research about Germain focuses on her achievements, noting that she assumed a man's name at the École Polytechnique in Paris, to submit her own work to Lagrange. Yet, no biography has explained, how Germain learned mathematics before that time to become so sure of her analytical skills to carry out such a daring act. Sophie’s Diary is an attempt to answer this question: How did Germain learn enough mathematics to enter the world of Lagrange’s analysis in the first place?

In Sophie’s Diary, Germain comes to life through a fictionalized journal that intertwines mathematics with history of mathematics plus historically-accurate accounts of the brutal events that took place in Paris between 1789 and 1793. This format provides a plausible perspective of how a young Sophie could have learned mathematics on her own—both fascinated by numbers and eager to master tough subjects without a tutor’s guidance. Her passion for mathematics is integrated into her personal life as an escape from societal outrage.

Table of Contents

1. Awakening
2. Discovery
3. Introspection
4. Under Siege
5. Upon the Threshold
6. Intellectual Discovery
7. Knocking on Heaven’s Door
Author’s Note
Sophie Germain Biographical Sketch
Marie-Sophie Germain Timeline

Excerpt: Ch.2 Discovery, Saturday - January 2, 1790 (p. 49)

I sit in Papa’s study, watching through the window the velvety white snow blanketing the city. The afternoon light intermingles with the shadow of the night. The street lamps are lit, adding a golden glow to the twilight. People go about their affairs, poor and rich, conscious of each other’s social status. The wealthy travel in their fancy carriages, bundled up in fine furs, while the less fortunate trudge in the muddy streets, wearing worn-out garments to protect them from the cold wind. Rich and poor, young and old, all humans are alike in their desires, but they are not socially equal.

I never thought about it before, but now I see that the citizens of France do not share equal rights. Last year the workers and poor peasants revolted, unhappy with the unfair tax structure, and the financial crisis that led to an increase in prices. Bread became scarce and the poor went hungry. While the royal family and the court were living in luxury at their Palace in Versailles, the peasants and the workers in the city were suffering.

About the Author

Dora Musielak is an engineer scientist by training and a lover of mathematics. Born in Mexico, the first language she spoke was mathematics, winning her first math contest at the age of six. She went on to study at the Polytechnic Institute of Mexico where she became the first woman in Latin America to earn the title of engineer in aeronautics. Musielak immigrated to the United States to study aerospace engineering, completing her MS and PhD degrees and pursuing research related to rocket propulsion. Dora Musielak is the recipient of two NASA research fellowships and now teaches science and engineering at the University of Texas at Arlington. She is a member of the Association for Women in Mathematics, (AWM), the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA), and the Association of Women in Science (AWIS).

Musielak has been invited to lecture in Italy, England, Spain, Panama, Mexico, and the United States. In addition to her research in space sciences, Dora Musielak studies the history of mathematics, with emphasis on the mathematics of the 17th and 18th centuries.

Mathematics has always played an important part Musielak’s career. She wrote Sophie’s Diary, as a labor of love, fascinated by the mysterious rise to fame of a self-taught mathematician. Musielak is an enthusiastic promoter of the history of women in science and mathematics and gives talks on the topic. She is the author of Kuxan Suum: Path to the Center of the Universe, an unusual book on the science of space, combining topics from astrophysics and astronautics.

MAA Review

Reading a diary is such a verboten act! But reading Sophie's Diary should not be. Dora Musielak has given us a delightful book of imaginings of mathematician Sophie Germain’s mind during the late 18th century. As we’re told in the author’s note, she was inspired to write this book because there is no record of how Germain managed to learn enough mathematics to make the substantial contribution to Fermat's Last Theorem that she did. Continued...


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