An Elegant Solution
The name “Bernoulli” is as recognizable to mathematicians as “Tudor” is to historians. The Bernoulli brothers, Jacob and Johann, each in turn the Professor of Mathematics at the University in Basel, significantly advanced the new fields of calculus and probability; and in the next generation Johann’s sons – Daniel, Nicolaus, and Johann II – equaled or exceeded their father’s accomplishments. It is an interesting fact of history that another mathematician, Leonhard Euler, now recognized as one of the world’s greatest intellects, spent his formative years within the Bernoulli family sphere.
In An Elegant Solution, set in 1725, Leonhard Euler is an eighteen-year-old student with a particular keenness of mind that allows him to see ‘other than by sight.’ As he walks the streets of Basel, the remote past is as vivid to him as the present and the spiritual realm as obvious as the physical. This same gift enables him to see and understand the deep laws of mathematics. “I lived in an invisible world of logic and theorem more evident to me than ink and paper…” When a coachman’s body is found in a trunk, Leonhard becomes involved in the investigation, and it is not long before he begins to suspect that someone in the Bernoulli family may be responsible. Leonhard’s fondness for the entire family does not blind him to the bitter rivalries amongst them as they compete for prized positions and honors.
This is one of the most intriguing works of historical fiction I have ever read. Leonhard, a likeable genius with a subtle sense of humor narrates with a voice that is both analytical and lyrical. Although it is a challenge to follow his thoughts down their unusual pathways, the journey is a fascinating tour of academia during the Age of Reason. Highly recommended.