On August 10, 1632, five leading Jesuits convened in a sombre Roman palazzo to pass judgment on a simple idea: that a continuous line is composed of distinct and limitlessly tiny parts. The doctrine would become the foundation of calculus, but on that fateful day the judges ruled that it was forbidden. With the stroke of a pen they set off a war for the soul of the modern world. Amir Alexander takes us from the bloody religious strife of the sixteenth century to the battlefields of the English civil war and the fierce confrontations between leading thinkers like Galileo and Hobbes. The legitimacy of popes and kings, as well as our modern beliefs in human liberty and progressive science, hung in the balance; the answer hinged on the infinitesimal. Pulsing with drama and excitement, Infinitesimal will forever change the way you look at a simple line.
Amir Alexander teaches history at UCLA. He is the author of Geometrical Landscapes and Duel at Dawn. His work has been featured in Nature, the Guardian, among others. He lives in Los Angeles, California.