May 1831 saw the discovery and loss of a mathematical genius; before Evariste Galois met his death in a duel for the affection of his love, he scribbled down a theory which eventually unlocked the secrets of symmetry.
Marcus du Sautoy examines the history of mathematics from the ancient world to its modern uses in explaining the construction of the universe. He finds the start of the decimal system in Egypt, the Babylonian beginnings for the Base 60 system, which covers time, and the Greek origins of mathematical analysis.
Marcus du Sautoy discovers how, as Europe fell into the Dark Ages, the development of maths was taken up with vigour in the East. He learns how numeracy made possible great feats of engineering and how India came up with symbols for zero and negative numbers as well as concepts of infinity. The academic then examines the propagation of the knowledge to the West through luminaries such as Fibonacci.
Mathematical problems became spectator sports in 16th century, with generous prizes given to the winners. In such a competitive atmosphere, it's not surprising that mathematicians would jealously guard their knowledge - and in some cases, behave very badly.