You are here

The Prince of Mathematics: Carl Friedrich Gauss

Linda Y. Shuey, reviewer

The Prince of Mathematics:  Carl Friedrich Gauss, by M. B. W. Tent, 2006, 264 pp., hardcover, ISBN: 1-56881-261-2, $27.95, A. K. Peters, Ltd., 888 Worcester Street, Suite 230, Wellesley, MA 02482,


The life of Carl Friedrich Gauss is described by M. B. W. Tent in such a way that the reader of this book comes to know what one of the greatest mathematicians of all time was like as a person. The author studied Gauss’s writings, written accounts about Gauss from family and friends who knew him intimately, and other documents pertaining to Gauss to write this account of his life. Students from fourth grade up and others interested in the history of mathematics would enjoy this novel that takes you from Gauss’ early childhood days, through his school days reading at night by a turnip candle, and into his adult life as a husband, father, professor, astronomer, surveyor, scientist, and mathematician. Being an only child from a poor family with a mother who could not read or write and a father who trusted hard physical work more than work with one’s brain, might make you wonder how Carl could have accomplished so much with such meager beginnings.

Several photos are included in the book, among them a photo of Gauss’s journal in which he made notes to himself about the mathematics that occupied his mind at the time. The mathematics is explained in such a way that a young reader can understand the general ideas of Gauss’s work. There is no detailed, heavy math to read through. If you want to re-create his construction of a regular 17-gon or see his proof of the Fundamental Theorem of Algebra, then this is not the book for you. On the other hand, if you would like to know more about the man who discovered those things and more, then you need to read this book.

Gauss's father wanted Carl to be a laborer like himself, but his mother, teachers, his patron, the Duke, and others recognized his talent for mathematics and encouraged him to pursue his investigations with numbers. As a teacher in a public school, I would recommend this book about the life of Carl Friedrich Gauss to my students. It is inspirational as well as informative about the “Prince of Mathematics”  (1777-1855). After reading it, you may better feel encouraged to follow your own instincts and interests.

Linda Y. Shuey, Western Albemarle H.S., Crozet, VA

See also the MAA Review by Lisa DeKeukelaere.

Linda Y. Shuey, reviewer, "The Prince of Mathematics: Carl Friedrich Gauss," Convergence (July 2007)