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Lagrange book sale

Langrange (from Wikipedia)

Langrange (from Wikipedia)

I never miss a chance to rummage around in second-hand book shops. In the past bargains were easy to come by but now the internet has killed that off. Now all books are priced pretty much the same and I no longer have the experience of approaching the counter carrying a much-underpriced book with the feeling that I am stealing from the shop and am about to be discovered. Those days are gone. As they are not experts, unfortunately charity shops price their books by consulting the web. This leads to setting the price of some dog-eared copy at just below the price of a mint condition one.
Also, I miss the end-of-search feeling as I come across a long sought-after book. These days if I want a book I can find it on Amazon or Abebooks in minutes. The latter is my favourite second-hand book-seller site. They often send me emails about books and a recent one is worth sharing. One of the most expensive sales on the site in March was a book by Lagrange. The relevant part of the article is the following.

Our list also includes an historic textbook from 1788 that has had a lasting influence on mathematics. Sounds a bit dull? Not at all. Méchanique Analitique by Joseph Louis Lagrange sold for $13,112. Born in Italy, Lagrange became a famous academic in France and Germany, and managed to survive the French Revolution despite the carnage surrounding him.

Méchanique Analitique advanced analytical mechanics beyond the work of Isaac Newton and Galileo Galilei. He wrote the book while in Berlin where he was director of mathematics at the Prussian Academy of Sciences. It was his greatest piece of work, although he contributed widely to mathematics and astronomy. He laid down the principle of being able to deduce the mechanics of solid objects and also fluids through formulae. Students of calculus around the world owe much to Lagrange.

Lagrange became a favorite of Napoleon Bonaparte and helped define France’s system of weights and measures. When all foreigners were ordered to leave France, he received special exemption.

The history is a bit uninformative from a mathematician’s perspective and was probably boiled down from Lagrange’s Wikipedia entry. If you want a not-well-known fact about Lagrange to impress your friends, then tell them that his name was actually Giuseppe Luigi Lagrancia as he was from Italy. That is, one of the quintessential French mathematicians was not French!

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