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The Story Of Maths

Marcus DuSautoy explores the long, surprising history of humankind's relationship with numbers.

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Marcus DuSautoy Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: BBC

Mathematics is the Empress of the Sciences. Without her, there would be no physics, nor chemistry, nor cosmology. Any field of study depending on statistics, geometry, or any kind of calculation would simply cease to be. And then, there are the practical applications: without maths there’s no architecture. No commerce. No accurate maps, or time-keeping: therefore no navigation, nor aviation, nor astronomy.

She is all-powerful: and she rules ruthlessly. Imperious and unyielding, mathematics brooks no dissent and tolerates no error. In an age of uncertainty, mathematics is the only discipline that generates knowledge that’s immutably, incontestably, and eternally true.

In this landmark series of films for BBC FOUR, Marcus du Sautoy, Professor of Mathematics at the University of Oxford, escorts viewers through the history of this most important of all intellectual disciplines. In a journey that takes him through the ages and around the world, he examines the development of key mathematical ideas and shows how, in a multitude of surprising ways, mathematical ideas underpin the science, technology, and culture that shape our world.

As Marcus shows, mathematics was part of the bedrock of intellectual life in the world’s great civilisations. It was central to the survival of some of the world’s most powerful empires. And even today, mathematical knowledge remains the motor-force that drives the modern world.

The films in this ambitious series offer clear, accessible explanations of important mathematical ideas but are also packed with engaging anecdotes, fascinating biographical details, and pivotal episodes in the lives of the great mathematicians. Engaging, enlightening and entertaining, the series gives viewers new and often surprising insights into the central importance of mathematics, establishing this discipline to be one of humanity’s greatest cultural achievements

This programme was originally broadcast on BBC Four on Monday 13th October, 2008. You can find links to the episodes further down the page. For further broadcast details, and to watch online where availble, please visit the programme pages.

Episode guide

The Language of the Universe


Read more about Episode One

Episodes in this series

Episode Description
The Language of the Universe Marcus du Sautoy shows how numbers underpin the universe. Read more
The Genius of the East When ancient Greece fell into decline, mathematical progress became the preserve of the genius of the East. Read more
The Frontiers of Space By the seventeenth century Europe had taken over from the Middle East as the world’s power house of mathematical... Read more
To Infinity - and Beyond Unsolved problems - and the search for solutions - will take maths to infinity and beyond. Marcus explains how. Read more