Pierre-Simon Laplace

8 Apr, 2021 510 Mathematics

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Laplace (1749-1827) who was a giant in the world of mathematics both before and after the French Revolution. He addressed one of the great questions of his age, raised but side-stepped by Newton: was the Solar System stable, or would the planets crash into the Sun, as it appeared Jupiter might, or even spin away like Saturn threatened to do? He advanced ideas on probability, long the preserve of card players, and expanded them out across science; he hypothesised why the planets rotate in the same direction; and he asked if the Universe was deterministic, so that if you knew everything about all the particles then you could predict the future. He also devised the metric system and reputedly came up with the name ‘metre’.

Play on BBC Sounds website


  • Marcus du Sautoy 15 episodes
    Simonyi Professor for the Public Understanding of Science and Professor of Mathematics at the University of Oxford
  • Timothy Gowers 4 episodes
    Professor of Mathematics at the College de France
  • Colva Roney-Dougal 11 episodes
    Professor of Pure Mathematics at the University of St Andrews

Reading list

  • The History of Mathematics: An Introduction
    David M. Burton (McGraw-Hill Education, 2010) Google Books →
  • Pierre-Simon Laplace, 1749-1827: A Life in Exact Science
    Charles Coulston Gillispie (Princeton University Press, 2000) Google Books →
  • What We Cannot Know: From Consciousness to the Cosmos, the Cutting Edge of Science Explained
    Marcus du Sautoy (Fourth Estate, 2017) Google Books →
  • Pierre Simon Laplace, 1749-1827: A Determined Scientist
    Roger Hahn (Harvard University Press, 2005) Google Books →
  • God Created the Integers: The Mathematical Breakthroughs That Changed History
    Stephen Hawking (ed.) (Penguin, 2006) Google Books →
  • A History of Mathematics: An Introduction
    Victor J. Katz (Pearson, 1998) Google Books →
  • A Philosophical Essay on Probabilities
    Pierre-Simon Laplace (trans. Frederick Wilson Truscott) (CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2015) Google Books →
  • Newton's Clock: Chaos in the Solar System
    Ivars Peterson (W.H.Freeman & Co, 1995) Google Books →

Related episodes

Programme ID: m000twgj

Episode page: bbc.co.uk/programmes/m000twgj

Auto-category: 510 (Mathematics)

Hello (First sentence from this episode) Hello. Pierre-Simon Laplace was a giant in the world of mathematics, either side of the French Revolution.