Elementary, my dear

About 11 years ago, while I was studying for my PhD in abstract algebra (and, coincidentally, happened to have a friend who worked at a bookshop who was able to get me occasional books at a discount rate), I decided to treat myself to a copy of Euclid’s Elements, one of the classic texts of mathematics (with no discernible connection whatever to my official research topic).  This is a collection of 13 books covering not just plane and solid geometry (Euclidean, of course!) but also quite a bit of elementary number theory (although treated in a fairly geometrical way).

I went for the 3 volume Dover edition of Heath’s annotated translation of the complete 13 books, originally dating from about 1925.  After ploughing through the entire 150-page introduction, I must confess I didn’t get very far through my planned systematic study of the books themselves; in fact, the bookmark I found in there the other day indicates I got about as far as proposition 8 in book 1 (there being 48 propositions in that book alone)!

Recently I have been working through several of my old maths books, and scaring myself with the realisation of quite how much I’ve forgotten.   Euclid is the latest one to come down from the shelf and I’ve been enjoying working through some of the proofs in book 1 and glancing through some of the later books.  I’m not yet sure whether I’ll make another attempt at systematically working through the whole lot, though I expect I probably won’t get round to it any time soon.


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