Introducing Mathematicians from History: 7: Euclid


When and where did he live?

Little is known about Euclid but it is thought that he lived around 300BC in Alexandria, Egypt.

Why is he famous?

Euclid wrote a collection of 13 books called The Elements which was basically a compendium of all known mathematics at that time. The section on parallel lines, points and angles is particularly famous and many people call him the “Father of Geometry” because of it. Many mathematicians like to misquote the famous line from Casablanca as “Here’s looking at Euclid” when referring to geometrical calculations.

Unusual facts

Until part way through the twentieth century Euclid’s The Elements was the second best-selling book of all time (beaten only by the Bible). Today no one mathematician could hope to produce a book similar to The Elements by covering all known modern mathematics, because they would have to understand work at the frontiers of too many specialities. In the 1930s Nicolas Bourbaki began work on such a book. It later turned out however that Bourbaki was in fact a fictitious name used by a group of more than twenty French mathematicians.

Links to modern mathematics

The modern day geometry we learn in Key Stage 3 Maths and GCSE Maths  is essentially Euclidean geometry, although non-Euclidean geometries have since been discovered. Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity implies that Euclidean space is a good approximation to physical space, where gravity isn’t too strong, and therefore Euclidean geometry is valid for most practical purposes in everyday life.

Debby Gill

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