The mathematical writings of Évariste Galois

Corrected 2nd printing, September 2013

  • Peter M. Neumann

    University of Oxford, UK
The mathematical writings of Évariste Galois cover

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Although Évariste Galois was only 20 years old when he died, shot in a mysterious early-morning duel in 1832, his ideas, when they were published 14 years later, changed the course of algebra. He invented what is now called Galois Theory, the modern form of what was classically the Theory of Equations. For that purpose, and in particular to formulate a precise condition for solubility of equations by radicals, he also invented groups and began investigating their theory. His main writings were published in French in 1846 and there have been a number of French editions culminating in the great work published by Bourgne & Azra in 1962 containing transcriptions of every page and fragment of the manuscripts that survive. Very few items have been available in English up to now.

The present work contains English translations of almost all the Galois material. They are presented alongside a new transcription of the original French, and are enhanced by three levels of commentary. An introduction explains the context of Galois' work, the various publications in which it appears, and the vagaries of his manuscripts. Then there is a chapter in which the five mathematical articles published in his lifetime are reprinted. After that come the Testamentary Letter and the First Memoir (in which Galois expounded the ideas now called Galois Theory), which are the most famous of the manuscripts. There follow the less well known manuscripts, namely the Second Memoir and the many fragments. A short epilogue devoted to myths and mysteries concludes the text.

The book is written as a contribution to the history of mathematics but with mathematicans as well as historians in mind. It makes available to a wide mathematical and historical readership some of the most exciting mathematics of the first half of the 19th century, presented in its original form. The primary aim is to establish a text of what Galois wrote. Exegesis would fill another book or books, and little of that is to be found here.

This work will be a resource for research in the history of mathematics, especially algebra, as well as a sourcebook for those many mathematicians who enliven their student lectures with reliable historical background.