S2, Ep 19 The Revolutions of Évariste Galois: Prof Marcus du Sautoy (1831)

In this episode of Travels Through Time, Marcus du Sautoy The Simonyi Professor for the Public Understanding of Science at the University of Oxford takes us back to the 1830s to meet one of his heroes: the brilliant and tragic Évariste Galois. 


Évariste Galois is a fascinating figure in the history of mathematics. An unpromising and secretive student who became embroiled in the revolutionary politics of the 1830s, Galois was dead at the age of twenty. Yet the work he completed in his few active years of study has influenced the subject of mathematics ever since.

Galois was born on the outskirts of Paris during the period of Napoleon’s rule in 1811. From the beginning he was known for his unusual, ‘bizarre’, character that led him into time and again into dangerous situations.

At some point during Galois’s undistinguished school career he fell, ‘under the spell of the excitement of mathematics’. Here he found a realm of certainty and fascination, where he could feel safe and escape the perils of human interaction and everyday life.

During his teenage years Galois’s fascination for his subject became ever deeper. He began to conceive entirely new ways of approaching an age-old mathematical problem – that of solving the quintic. So begins one of the thrilling stories in the history of mathematics.

Marcus du Sautoy takes us back to see Galois as his young life reached its intellectual peak and tragic conclusion in the early 1830s. It's a story of beguiling genius in tumultuous times.

The Creativity Code by Marcus du Sautoy is out now.

Show Notes:

Scene One: 9 May 1831, Paris. At a banquet to celebrate the acquittal of 19 members of the revolutionary Société des Amis du Peuple, a young Galois gets carried away by the atmosphere and the alcohol.

Scene Two: 23 October 1831 , Sainte-Pelagie Prison, southern Paris. Galois is thrown in jail, having been found guilty of wearing a banned National Guard uniform, carrying weapons – and graffitiing his holding cell with political cartoons.

Scene Three: 30 May 1832, Paris: Early one morning a peasant on his way to work finds a young man lying beside a pond bleeding from a gunshot wound.


Presenter: Violet Moller

Guest: Marcus du Sautoy

Producer: Maria Nolan

Editorial: Artemis Irvine

Titles: Jon O


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