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Euclid's Elements and Abraham Lincoln

...[N]o book has come closer to being the ``bible of mathematics'' than Euclid's spectacular creation. Down through the centuries, over 2000 editions of the Elements have appeared, a figure that must make the authors of today's mathematics textbooks drool with envy. As noted, it was highly successful even in its own day. After the fall of Rome, the Arab scholars carried it off to Baghdad, and when it reappeared in Europe during the Renaissance, its impact was profound. The work was studied by the great Italian scholars of the sixteenth century and by a young Cambridge student named Isaac Newton a century later. We have a passage from Carl Sandburg's biography of Abraham Lincoln that recounts how, when a young lawyer trying to sharpen his reasoning skills, the largely unschooled Lincoln

...bought the Elements of Euclid, a book twenty-three centuries old...[It] went into his carpetbag as he went out on the circuit. At night...he read Euclid by the light of a candle after others had dropped off to sleep.
It has often been noted that Lincoln's prose was influenced and enriched by his study of Shakespeare and the Bible. It is likewise obvious that many of his political arguments echo the logical development of a Euclidean proposition.

--William Dunham, Journey Through Genius, Chapter 2

Carl Lee
Thu Sep 11 09:07:24 EDT 1997