An Elegant Solution by Paul Robertson

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When I read the description of this book, I was intrigued partly because I enjoy history and mystery but mostly because I love mathematics. I was introduced to Euler’s work more than a decade ago when I participated in an intensive, three week long workshop for math teachers and had the pleasure of being instructed by Dr. Evelyn Granville, who is a respected mathematician in her own right. It was from Dr. Granville that I learned that Euler is pronounce “oiler”, and maybe that is why I recognized the name. At any rate, An Elegant Solution seemed to be an interesting historical suspense novel that would combine my favorite academic subject with my favorite literary genres.

I must admit that this book was somewhat dry, and it took me much longer than usual to read this book. It wasn’t that I couldn’t get into the story, but it didn’t leave me on the edge of my seat. Some authors provide too much action and suspense and have every chapter end with a cliffhanger. This author wrote cryptically, so that only Leonhard knew what questions to ask and what their answers meant. There was suspense throughout the book, and I found it interesting, but there was so much information that only Leonhard was privy to, that I failed to keep up with his thoughts. I am sure this was the author’s intent, since an average person couldn’t begin to comprehend Leonhard Euler’s ways of thinking. In the last chapters, Leonhard reveals information that ties everything up in a neat little bow, and it was an elegant solution.

In this book, Leonhard is just 18 years old but finishing his doctoral studies at Basel University, which I find fascinating. He is tutored by Johann Bernoulli, another great mathematician of the late 17th and early 18th centuries, and finds himself in the middle of a great mystery surrounding the Bernoulli family, of which no one wishes to speak because Johann is such a powerful man at the University and in Basel. Leonhard is persistent and intelligent; he is humble and respectful. He is a very likable character, and the book makes me wonder how much this character was like the real Leonhard Euler.

I think the subject matter and time period were perfectly portrayed. I thoroughly enjoyed learning about Basel and Europe during the early 18th century, and I even spent a little time online researching the city to learn more. I would love to visit Basel someday to see what is left from this time period. The author wrote vivid descriptions of the land and water surrounding the city and of the city walls and streets. It wasn’t easy to keep up with Leonhard throughout all of his walks and adventures, even though the author was very specific. I felt like I could have followed his wanderings if I’d had a map of the city at the time, but I didn’t feel this detracted from the story.

I enjoyed reading this book even though it took me several weeks to finish it. I found the last few chapters to be the most interesting and stayed up late last night to finish. I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys historical fiction or biographies, even though this is a fictional tale about a real person. There is no romance in this book, so don’t pick it up if you’re wanting a love story. In fact, there are only a few female characters mentioned in the whole book, but that is in keeping with the role of females in that society. I think Paul Robertson has done extensive research and crafted a well-written novel around these famous mathematicians.

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