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Paperback | $21.95 Trade | £15.95 | ISBN: 9780262650090 | 197 pp. | 5.2 x 7.9 in | February 1975

Women in Mathematics


"'It takes all the running you can do to keep in the same place,'" remarks the Red Queen to Alice in Lewis Carroll's Through the Looking Glass. "'If you want to get somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast as that!' It is surely a part of [Carroll's] genius that he has this dialogue take place between two females," Lynn Osen notes dryly, "for nowhere is this metaphor more applicable than it is for women in mathematics." Yet despite the prejudice against intellectual women through almost all ages, there have always been those with the courage and determination to make their gifts known. Women in Mathematics uses biographies of selected women mathematicians to trace the history of feminine scholarship in this area from prehistory to the present. They include Hypatia, a professor of mathematics and philosophy at the University of Alexandria about 400 A.D.; Maria Agnesi, whose Analytical Institutions was one of the first and finest calculus texts of the eighteenth century; Emilie de Breteuil, Marquise du Châtelet, who first translated Newton's Principia into French and who was Voltaire's intellectual and intimate companion; Caroline Herschel, an assistant to her brother, Sir William Herschel, and a pioneer astronomer in her own right; Sophie Germain, who won the grand prix of the French Academy of Sciences in 1816; Mary Somerville, whose Mechanisms of the Heavens and The Connections of the Physical Sciences, both written lucidly and with a minimum of mathematical jargon, contributed to an effort to reduce English indifference to mathematical and scientific progress in the eighteenth century; Sonya Kovalevsky, the first woman elected to the Russian Academy of Sciences; and Emmy Noether, who had a profound influence on modern algebra. The colorful lives of these women, who often traveled in the most avant-garde circles of their day, are presented in fascinating detail. The obstacles and censures that were also a part of their lives are a sobering reminder of the bias against women still present in this and other fields of academic endeavor. Mathematicians, science historians, and general readers will find this book a lively history; women will find it a reminder of a proud tradition and a challenge to take their rightful place in academic life today.