Davide CrippaAug 28, 2019
The Impossibility of Squaring the Circle in the 17th Century
A Debate Among Gregory, Huygens and Leibniz
From 1667 to 1676, a pivotal controversy played out among several mathematical luminaries of the time, partly in the proceedings of the Royal Society but partly in private correspondence. The controversy concerned whether an infamous problem of Ancient Greek geometry, the quadrature of the central conic sections (better known as squaring the circle), could be solved using the classical tools of straightedge and compass. While its impossibility would not be rigorously proven for two more centuries, the theoretical and philosophical implications of these attempts to settle the issue were constitutive of the contemporaneous development of calculus. Dr. Davide Crippa's book The Impossibility of Squaring the Circle in the 17th Century (Birkhäuser, 2019) is a deep dive into this little-covered episode in the modern European history of mathematics. He examines the advances of Gregory and Leibniz in full mathematical detail, clarifying in current notation and elegant figures the steps and missteps of their constructions and arguments, and in some cases through the lens of critical and often fierce exchanges with their peers, including recently-published correspondence that traces the former's influence on the latter's efforts. The book reveals The Impossibility of Squaring the Circle in the 17th Century to have been a sensation of its time, and deserving of a treatment of its own.
Cory Brunson (he/him) is a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Center for Quantitative Medicine at UConn Health.