Sophie's Diary

Sophie's Diary: A Mathematical Novel

Dora Musielak
Series: Spectrum
Copyright Date: 2012
Edition: 1
Pages: 292
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.4169/j.ctt13x0ncf
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  • Book Info
    Sophie's Diary
    Book Description:

    Sophie's Diary: A Mathematical Novel is a work of fiction inspired by French mathematician Sophie Germain. It chronicles the coming of age of a teenager learning mathematics on her own, growing up during the most turbulent years of the French Revolution. The fictionalized diary uses mathematics, intertwined with historically-accurate accounts of the social chaos that reigned in Paris between 1789 and 1794, to describe the learning journey of a remarkable girl that became the first and only woman in history to make a substantial contribution to the proof of Fermat’s Last Theorem. Sophie Germain was born in Paris in 1776. Little is known about her childhood or about her initiation into mathematics. Her first biographers wrote that, as a young woman, she assumed the name of a male student at the Ecole Polytechnique to submit her own work to Lagrange. Yet, no biography has explained how Germain studied mathematics before that time to encourage such boldness. Sophie's Diary is an attempt to put in perspective how a self-taught girl could have acquired the knowledge to enter the world of Lagrange's analysis.

    eISBN: 978-1-61444-510-4
    Subjects: Mathematics

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-ix)
  3. Paris, France:: 1789
    • 1 Awakening
      (pp. 1-46)

      How can I divide 35 in a half, a third and a ninth, and get an even number? It seems impossible! Yet I know there must be a way….

      My name is Sophie. Today is my thirteenth birthday and my parents surprised me with wonderful gifts. My father gave me a lap desk of glossy mahogany wood. It has a compartment to keep paper and pens, and a secret drawer that can only be opened by pressing a hidden tab underneath. When I unlocked it, I found a mathematical riddle and a note from Papa, challenging me to solve it....

  4. Paris, France:: 1790
    • 2 Discovery
      (pp. 49-92)

      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...

  5. Paris, France:: 1791
    • 3 Introspection
      (pp. 95-130)

      The bells for Sunday mass tolled as usual this morning. However, today was no ordinary Sunday. The Catholic ritual at Notre-Dame was transformed into a civil ceremony staged by the government. Upon arrival, I knew something different was about to happen. The church was full with army officers dressed in magnificent tricolor uniforms, and instead of sacred music, an orchestra played a patriotic march. This was the day when many priests took an oath to uphold and obey France’s new constitution.

      The ceremony began when the officers marched to the altar followed by the priests and bishops. At the altar,...

  6. Paris, France:: 1792
    • 4 Under Siege
      (pp. 133-170)

      I begin the new year with more determination and a renewed resolve to study prime numbers. One of my goals is to acquire the necessary mathematical background to prove theorems.

      Prime numbers are exquisite. They are whole pure numbers, and I can manipulate them in myriad ways, as pieces on the chessboard. Not all moves are correct but the right ones make you win. Take, for example, the process to uncover primes from whole numbers. Starting with the realization that any whole numbernbelongs to one of four different categories:

      The number is an exact multiple of 4 :...

  7. Paris, France:: 1793
    • 5 Upon the Threshold
      (pp. 173-186)

      A new year begins, a sickly child born to a mother cruelly beaten, crushed. The mother is France in 1792, a year that began in strife and ended in sorrow. A year ago there was suffering, people rioting for food, dying of hunger and despair. Then the country was besieged by war.

      The summer was no better; the citizens of Paris went crazy and stormed the Tuileries Palace, taking the king and the royal family captive and throwing them in a cold, dark prison. The people spat on the faces of the monarchs and their children, treating them all like...

    • 6 Intellectual Discovery
      (pp. 187-212)

      Is there anything more fascinating than prime numbers? The basic notion of prime numbers is so simple that even as a child I could understand it. Prime numbers cannot be written as a product, except of themselves and 1. For example 17, one of my favorite numbers, can only be written as 17 = 17 · 1 = 1 · 17, and that’s all. However, prime numbers combine that beautiful simplicity with a mystifying nature and a profound meaning that only those who know and understand mathematics can appreciate. The prime numbers contain within them such mystery and intricacy that...

  8. Paris, France:: 1794
    • 7 Knocking on Heaven’s Door
      (pp. 215-240)

      I am most happy when I am in my own metaphysical space of solitude and sanctity, disconnected from daily realities, a place where I endeavor and reside. I dream here, too. But most of all I am in heaven when I am in this special realm where new fascinating discoveries are illuminated by the bright light of knowledge.

      For the past two weeks I’ve researched a most intriguing topic. In one of Euler’s memoirs I found the termcalculi variationum, which I understood to be different from integral or differential calculus. Because the memoir is written in Latin, I began...

  9. Appendices