Bonaparte, Napoleon (1769–1821)
The advancement and perfection of mathematics are intimately
connected with the prosperity of the state.
Napoleon Bonaparte was the Emperor of France and a very good amateur mathematician having
excelled in this subject as a student at school and at military college.
Even after becoming First Consul he was proud of his membership in the Institute
de France (the nation's leading scientific society), and was close friends
with several mathematicians and scientists, including Joseph Fourier,
Gaspard Monge, Pierre Simon Laplace,
Chaptal, and Berthollet. Indeed, in his grand expedition to Egypt in 1798
Napoleon brought along (in addition to 35,000 troops) over 150 experts in
various fields, among them Monge, Fourier, and Berthollet, not to mention
a complete encyclopedie vivante with libraries and instruments. One
result of the expedition was that Fourier served for a time as the governor
of lower Egypt. Likewise Laplace (who interviewed the young Napoleon for
admission to the artillery) received titles and high office as a result
of his friendship with Bonaparte. However, Laplace was relieved of his duties
as the Minister of the Interior after only six weeks, and Napoleon later
commented that Laplace had "sought subtleties everywhere, had only doubtful
ideas, and carried the spirit of the infinitely small into administration".
The most famous exchange between these two men occurred after Laplace had
given Napoleon a copy of his great work, Mecanique Celeste. Napoleon
looked it over, and remarked that in this massive volume about the universe
there was not a single mention of God. Laplace
replied "Sire, I had no need of that hypothesis." Regarding the idea that
Napoleon might have discovered what is now called Napoleon's theorem (if equilateral triangles are constructed on the sides of any triangle (all
outward or all inward), the centers of these equilateral triangles themselves
form an equilateral triangle), Coxeter and
Greitzer have said that
The possibility of [Napoleon] knowing enough geometry
for this feat is as questionable as the possibility of his knowing enough
English to compose the famous palindrome, ABLE WAS I ERE I SAW ELBA.