CALCULUS Understanding Its Concepts and Methods

Abraham de Moivre (1667--1754) --- Historical sketch

Abraham de Moivre was born in May of 1867 under unusual political circumstances. His family were Huguenots in Catholic France, and when Louis XIV revoked religious freedom, a period of repression followed. While the history of events is not clear on details, it appears that the Protestant Academy where young Abraham was studying was closed in 1682, and he moved to Saumur in Northwestern France, where he read mathematics books on his own, including Huygens' exposition on games of chance. He soon thereafter went to join his parents in Paris, where he attended the Collège de Harcourt. According to some accounts, de Moivre was eventually imprisoned for two years, until he was almost 21 years old, after which he went to reside permanently in England.

In England, he became a private mathematics tutor, for he was by then very knowledgeable in mathematics, and he read Isaac Newton's Principia Mathematica. He eventually met Edmund Halley (of Halley's comet fame), and soon thereafter met and became friends of Newton himself. He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1697. And by 1710, de Moivre had become well enough known so that he was appointed to a Royal Society Commission to prepare a study of the bitter conflicting claims of Newton and Gottfried Leibniz as to which had first discovered calculus.

The very next year, a long treatise of de Moivre on the mathematical laws of chance phenomena was accepted for publication in 1711 in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society. His paper was expanded and published in 1718 as a book entitled, The Doctrine of Chance: A method of calculating the probabilities of events in play. This book enjoyed such success that revisions of it were published in 1738 and 1756.

Abraham de Moivre is best known by trigonometry and calculus students for his formula about complex numbers:which he published in 1722. He was also the first to prove that which is a fundamental probability formula.

One final comment about de Moivre: Using a calculation concerning his sleeping habits, he is said to have correctly predicted the date of his death.

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Copyright © 2006 Darel Hardy, Fred Richman, Carol Walker, Robert Wisner. All rights reserved. Except upon the express prior permission in writing, from the authors, no part of this work may be reproduced, transcribed, stored electronically, or transmitted in any form by any method.