25 Sep, 2014 510 Mathematics

Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss Euler’s number, also known as e. First discovered in the seventeenth century by the Swiss mathematician Jacob Bernoulli when he was studying compound interest, e is now recognised as one of the most important and interesting numbers in mathematics. Roughly equal to 2.718, e is useful in studying many everyday situations, from personal savings to epidemics. It also features in Euler’s Identity, sometimes described as the most beautiful equation ever written.

Play on BBC Sounds website


  • Colva Roney-Dougal 11 episodes
    Reader in Pure Mathematics at the University of St Andrews
  • June Barrow-Green 3 episodes
    Senior Lecturer in the History of Maths at the Open University
  • Vicky Neale 2 episodes
    Whitehead Lecturer at the Mathematical Institute and Balliol College at the University of Oxford

Reading list

  • Euler: The Master of Us All
    William Dunham (The Mathematical Association of America, 1999) Google Books →
  • The Princeton Companion to Mathematics
    Tim Gowers, June Barrow-Green and Imre Leader (eds.) (Princeton University Press, 2008) Google Books →
  • Mathematics: From the Birth of Numbers
    Jan Gullberg and Peter Hilton (W W Norton & Co Ltd, 1997) Google Books →
  • John Napier: Life, Logarithms and Legacy
    Julian Havil (Princeton University Press, 2014) Google Books →
  • The Universal History of Numbers: From Prehistory to the Invention of the Computer
    Georges Ifrah (John Wiley & Sons, 2000) Google Books →
  • e: The Story of a Number
    Eli Maor (Princeton University Press, 2009)

Related episodes

Programme ID: b04hz49f

Episode page: bbc.co.uk/programmes/b04hz49f

Auto-category: 510.1 (Mathematics)

Hello (First sentence from this episode) Hello. Centuries ago, when thinkers started to look at the world around them using the language of mathematics, they found that a few very important numbers seemed to underpin everything.