Finished reading on May 17th, 2014
Sophie’s Diary is a work of fiction depicting a few years in the life of Sophie Germain, a female French mathematician, physicist and philosopher who lived from 1776 to 1831.
This book starts in 1789, when Sophie is thirteen years old and has decided that she will become a mathematician, as she has been fascinated by numbers since childhood. The diary shows how Sophie goes about studying mathematics, where she starts with it and where she ends up in five years despite everything that is going on in France.
A solid part of this work of fiction is Sophie’s education – we see how she’s finding her way around in mathematics and also physics (or natural philosophy at the time), studying books written by ancient and historic mathematicians (starting with Euclid and Archimedes and ending with Euler, Newton and Leibniz), and translating some of those to French from Latin despite not having learned Latin.
Another part is Sophie’s struggle in the beginning of the diary, to be allowed to study mathematics, as her mother doesn’t consider mathematics appropriate for a girl to study, but at the same time Sophie’s father is supportive and helps her find the necessary books etc.
In addition to Sophie’s life, there are descriptions of event that were afoot in France from 1789 to 1784 – the French revolution, imprisonment of Louis the XVI and queen Marie-Antoinette and their subsequent deaths, the violence on the streets, the changes in society, etc.
It is a great book, as it introduces a lot of mathematics and history in a simpler context, while being interesting and showing someone who is excited about learning algebra and geometry, which makes the book also motivational, as I think all books where the main character is working on self-improvement are.
Although the diary is fictional, it was a fascinating read, since the mathematics and history in it are real.