Friday, September 7, 2012

Michele Intermont Reviews Sophie's Diary

Michele Intermont, associate professor of mathematics at Kalamazoo College, reviewed Dora Musielak's Sophie's Diary: A Mathematical Novel
Sophie's Diary tells the story of Sophie Germain, the first and only woman in history to make a substantial contribution to the proof of Fermat's Last Theorem. Germain 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?

"Reading a diary is such a verboten act! But reading Sophie's Diary should not be," wrote Intermont for MAA Reviews. "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."

Intermont describes the ideal reader for this book as "a young girl looking to be enticed by mathematics (or whom one is looking to entice)."

"The book is written with many easy stopping points," she continues. "It’s a perfect format for introducing an idea or stating a question and letting the reader stop to ponder it for herself. But be advised: the author does intentionally include some inaccurate statements. This will keep readers on their toes, and either help the budding mathematician develop some skepticism or promote a bit of frustration."

Read the full review on MAA Reviews

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