Tuesday, 21 September 2010

Euler by Dunham

In the last three paragraphs of a chapter in "The Mathematical Universe", William Dunham compares the relative anonymity of Euler as compared to his counterparts in other fields. As I was reading it in our silent reading period yesterday, I had to pass it over to share with a very bright senior sitting beside me.

"We should add a final word. Leonhard Euler was a mathematician of the very first rank, yet he is almost universally unknown among the general public, most of whom presumably cannot even correctly pronounce his name. The same people who have never heard of Euler would have no trouble identifying Pierre-August Renoir as an artist or Johannes Brahms as a musician or Sir Walter Scott as an author. Euler's contrasting anonymity is both an injustice and a shame.

But what makes it all the worse is that Euler's counterpart among painters is not Renoir but Rembrandt; his counterpart among musicians is not Brahms but Bach; and his counterpart among writers is certainly not Walter Scott but William Shakespeare. That a mathematician with such peers-the Shakespeare of mathematics- commands so little public recognition is a sad, sad commentary.

So, readers are urged to toss this book aside and begin forming fan clubs, making banners, and otherwise spreading the word about one of the most insightful, most influential, and most ingenious mathematicians of them all: Leonhard Euler of Switzerland."

Perhaps it is even a greater shame that many elementary and middle school teachers are equally unaware of the "Master of us all".

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