My review of Duel at Dawn: Heroes, Martyrs and the Rise of Modern Mathematics ran today at Forbes.com.
This was a book that made me wish I had learned more about mathematics, or at least been taught it better. Alexander does an excellent job of making this often challenging field engrossing, telling the story of math’s evolution from a grounded, mechanical science to a pure, theoretical artform at the turn of the 19th century. He makes a compelling philosophical argument about this transformation, with the mathematicians of the late 18th century cleaving to the ideals of the Enlightenment and the new young upstarts of the early 19th century embodying the spirit of Romanticism more commonly associated with artists and poets. Alexander revels in both discussing the myth of the legendary Evariste Galois and in tearing it down, but even though the book is titled for the tragic it’s the story of Janos Bolyai and his discovery of non-Euclidean geometry that I found most compelling.