Reviewed June 2019
Byrne’s Euclid is the passion project of designer Nicholas Rougeux available as a free resource, Byrne’s Euclid is an augmented digital reproduction of Euclid’s Elements by Irish mathematician Oliver Byrne. It is viewable only on modern browsers and offered exclusively as a website, but works well on mobile devices.
Oliver Byrne’s objective with the 1847 version of Euclid’s Elements was to present Euclid’s geometric proofs using as little text as possible. According to the introduction, “we do not introduce colours for the purpose of entertainment… but to assist the mind in its researches after truth…” but the legacy of his creation is as an example of imaginative design with an almost prescient modern sensibility.
Rougeux painstakingly recreates the font, typography, design elements, and illustrations of Euclid’s Elements. Rougeux corrects printing errors visible in the original version such as color overlap and misalignments. The online version adds another dimension by making the diagrams interactive. Selecting elements in the proof highlight their analogous form in the diagram, and the diagram follows as you scroll through each proposition. Rougeux also includes links and cross-references to previous propositions, proofs, and definitions. The “Jump to…” section presents an illustrated index of all the propositions in each book. Just as interesting as the resource itself, Rougeux includes a blog detailing the design process including examples of code for both the diagrams and typography.
Rougeux aims to bring Byrne’s Euclid to modern audiences, mainly lovers of graphic design and geometry. The interactive elements emphasize the ingenuity behind Byrne’s designs and simplifies the concepts that Byrne already simplified. The end result is a beautiful resource that is easily navigable and fun to explore. The addition of the “behind the scenes” narrative elevates this resource to a case study or teaching tool for graphic design students. Those interested in the novel printing techniques of the time are left wanting by absence and removal of all print artifacts.
As for making the book more accessible, the book itself is not much of a rarity; the original Byrne books are held in many major libraries across the country. Taschen produced a facsimile that is still in print today, and the work is available in full online through the Internet Archive as well as the University of British Columbia, who have paired Byrne’s work with the original text-based proofs and additional comments. Byrne only adapted the first six of Elements’ thirteen books, therefore any reproduction of Byrne’s work presents an incomplete version of Euclid’s original work. For an interpretation of what the rest of the thirteen books would look like according to Byrne, Kronecker Wallis Press will be releasing “complete” edition in 2019.
A twenty-first-century reproduction of a nineteenth-century reimagination of a fourth century BC work, Rougeux’s Byrne’s Euclid is by far the easiest version of Euclid’s Elements to find and use. Byrne’s work is appreciated as an oddity and an achievement of design and printing rather than a revelation of geometrical pedagogy, so this digital representation functions as a celebration of typography and not a tool for teaching mathematics. It is simple, not offering much more than its slick surface and more of a spectacle and an exercise in design adaptation.