24 Things You Didn't Know About Carl Friedrich Gauss

Gauss Currency via Wikipedia

I don’t talk about this much, but the follow-up to my 2010 book on Fibonacci was supposed to be a picture book biography on the life of the German mathematician, Carl Gauss.

My publisher actually “bought” the book, accepted my manuscript, and paid me the first half of my advance. And then years later, they backed out of the entire deal, claiming the children’s book market had “changed.” Because of that series about the boy wizard, parents were no longer buying their kids “baby books.”

So I was SOL. They allowed me to keep the advance. And I now have a bone to pick with J.K. Rowling the next time we meet.

Years ago, I compiled a handwritten list of notes after reading two serious, grown-up books on the life of Gauss. What did I learn about this brilliant man? Plenty, but it was the odd little things that stayed with me. I made a list of his quirks, likes, and dislikes. Here they are.

• He smoked a pipe.

• He liked wine.

• He often wore a little velvet cap.

• He calculated the date of his own birthday because his mother forgot when he was born.

• He liked songs and kept a list of his favorites in a little notebook.

• Gauss was married and widowed twice. He really loved the first wife; the second, not so much.

• His name is a unit of measure.

• He figured out a way to draw a 17-sided polygon.

• He added all the numbers from 1 to 100 as a kid—maybe.

• His father, who was a mason, was an angry, violent man; perhaps as a result, the adult Gauss hated violence.

• Gauss read newspapers voraciously; students called him "the newspaper tiger" because he pounced on any papers they left unattended. 

• His collected works fill 12 huge volumes.

• He invented one of the first telegraphs used in Germany!

• He died richer than a professor should have because he hoarded pennies like a miser.

• He probably knew the Brothers Grimm.

• He had lovely penmanship.

• He hated teaching, and believed some students robbed him of his time.

• He hated when students took notes in class; he told them to listen instead.

• His portrait used to be on German currency before the coming of the euro.

• He was called the "Prince of Mathematics" in his lifetime; he had no problem with the title.

• He is considered one of the top three mathematicians of all time, along with Archimedes and Newton.

• Two of his sons emigrated to the United States.

• One learned to speak Sioux.

• Another became a millionaire selling shoes in St. Louis.

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