This book is written by a team of mathematicians, historians of mathematics, and historians of culture and society and it deals with the life and work of B. O. Rodrigues (1794-1851) who was a fascinating figure in Paris in the first half of the nineteenth century. He was born to a Jewish family, which was almost certainly of Portuguese and Spanish origin. Rodrigues studied at the École Normale, where he obtained a doctorate in mathematics in 1816. Then he became a prosperous banker and supported the development of the French railway system. But he was also a social reformer within the Saint-Simon utopian socialist movement. His interests were wide; he wrote on mathematics, politics, banking, social reforms and he discussed moral questions such as the position of women in society, the treatment of workers, etc.

The authors have put together, for the first time, archival resources and documents on B. O. Rodrigues, which are scattered throughout a variety of archives, to show different aspects of Rodrigues' fascinating life and to describe his interesting mathematical works and his influence on mathematics in France. The authors corrected some inaccurate references and mistakes that have been repeatedly made about Rodrigues’ life. After a description of his scientific, cultural and social backgrounds, Rodrigues’ life and career, including his contributions to orthogonal polynomials, combinatorics, groups of transformations, rotations, and applications of quaternions, are discussed from both a mathematical and an historical point of view. The book draws attention to the first half of the 19th century, to a period of French history that was very creative and influential on European intellectual and social development. The reader can find here many roots of modern mathematics as well as foundations of utopian ideas, including the beginning of an understanding of housing and banking transport. The book is recommended for people interested in the roots of modern mathematics and modern society.

Reviewer:

mbec