home | archive | created: 13th February 1999 | gilest@iname.com

Review of The French Mathematician, by Tom Petsinis

Part tragedy, part academic exploration of mathematics, this fictionalised account of the life of Evariste Galois is both engaging and exciting.

Don't be put off by the title - there's not actually any difficult mathematics in the story, although it does pivot around the hero's unique talent.

Evariste Galois was a real man who lived in 19th century post-Revolutionary France. Born near Paris to a wealthy family, he showed little interest in school studies until he was introduced to mathematics, which fascinated him from day one.

He very quickly mastered even the most complex aspects of the subject, and began making his own explorations and new ideas at a very young age. However, he was not good at communicating his ideas to people, either verbally or on paper, and was unable to get to the secondary level school of his choice.

Grief-stricken by the unexpected suicide of his father, Galois was inspired to follow politics, at the expense of his mathematical studies. While his talent went unused, he championed the Republican cause and was imprisoned twice.

Eventually, he died, aged only 20, after a duel - pistols at 20 paces.

Petsinis takes this amazing life story and injects it with passion - first for the teenage Galois' discovery of geometry and algebra, then for his devotion to political struggle in a turbulent period. Galois only finds love shortly before his death, and his sad end is awash with regret and pathos.

Although it sometimes gets bogged down in wordy examinations of Galois' beliefs and convictions, as a whole it is a satisfying and enjoyable tale.

What took me back having read the story was his reputation now. Only at the very end do you find out Galois' leagacy to the study of mathematics. More info here.

home | archive | created: 13th February 1999 | gilest@iname.com