The Fifth Postulate by Jason Socrates Bardi

I just finished a great book by Jason Socrates Bardi, called The Fifth Postulate.  It really is a “must-read” for anyone interested in trying to understand how mathematicians think (and geometry teachers looking to leave the realm of the textbook!).

For thousands of years, mathematicians have spent their careers trying to prove the Parallel Postulate, only to find out that all of their attempts have failed.  It took the genius of people like Gauss to think, “maybe the postulate doesn’t need to be true.”  With that thought (and a lot of work), we have the birth of non-Euclidean geometry.

The Fifth Postulate gives a great historical overview of the attempts to prove the Parallel Postulate as well as thought process leading to its eventual rejection.  It is an extremely entertaining read and has some great biographies of Gauss, Lobachevsky and Bolyai.  As with most math books written today, it keeps a “general interest” audience in mind and steers clear of the heavy-duty mathematics of non-Euclidean geometry.  However, it still gives the reader a good overview of the birth of this field.