Review of Emmy Noether: The Most Important Mathematician You’ve Never Heard Of, by Helaine Becker and Kari Rust

Emmy Noether

The Most Important Mathematician You’ve Never Heard Of

by Helaine Becker and Kari Rust

Kids Can Press, 2020. 40 pages.
Review written April 19, 2021, from a library book

I’m always happy to find a picture book biography of a mathematician, and practically over the moon when that mathematician is also a woman!

It’s tricky, though, to write a picture book biography of someone who worked with high-level ideas. Emmy Noether helped Albert Einstein with the equations for his theory of relativity and did her own work that “completely changed our understanding of the universe.”

But the book also explains why most people haven’t heard of Emmy Noether, even though the work she did was ground-breaking and revolutionary.

A big part of that was that she was working in a field that didn’t welcome women at the time, and in order to get to do the work, she had to work behind the scenes – and wasn’t always given credit.

Another part was that she had to flee Germany at the start of World War II and died shortly after she left.

This book does an admirable job simply explaining high-level concepts. It also does a wonderful job getting across Emmy Noether’s exuberant personality and eagerness to talk about math. Here’s a bit after she had finally gotten her degree but wasn’t allowed to be a professor anywhere in Germany:

Emmy loved math so much, she found a way to teach anyway – she did it for free! That let her keep doing the research she loved and come up with new ways to think about and do math.

But just like when she was a student, other mathematicians took credit for her work. Or “forgot” to credit her. They knew they could get away with it; if Emmy spoke up, she could get kicked out of the university, since she wasn’t supposed to be there.

It’s lovely to have a book that shows kids that loving math can be ladylike!

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Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but the views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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