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The Elements of Euclid

Surely you remember Euclid, your old high school pal from sophomore geometry? Ok, he was sophomore geometry, as in Euclidian Geometry. His most famous work, Elements, was written around 300 B.C. and is still used as the foundation for textbooks today. That’s a really long time ago, so if you thought your math book was hard to understand it’s no wonder – this stuff is old. In the mid-1800s, Irish author and civil engineer Oliver Byrne thought the stuff could use an update and some much needed clarification beginning with Euclid’s famous first sentence: I. A point is that which has no parts. II. A line is length without breadth.

Byrne’s solution? Pictures. He’s quick to point out, however, that his book “has a greater aim than mere illustration; we do not introduce colours for the purpose of entertainment, or to amuse by certain combinations of tint and form, but to assist the mind in its researches after truth.” It’s also an incredible example of Victorian printing. The free-form typography and precise alignment of color and shape demanded a meticulous attention to registration. And it’s just plain beautiful. If everyone’s geometry book looked like this math class wouldn’t have been such a chore. Taschen’s latest edition, a facsimile of the original, is presented in a clamshell box for $60.