He entered the Ecole des Arts et Metiers when he was 12. After a year, Wantzel decided that the school was not academic enough and switched to the College Charlesmagne in 1828. He would later marry the daughter of his language coach at the College Charlesmagne.
At 15, Wantzel edited a famous mathbook, Antoine-Andre-Louis Reynaud's Treatise on Arithmetic and added a proof for a method of finding square roots that had previously not had a proof. Later, in 1831, he he was awarded first prize in Latin disseration. When he applied in 1832 for the prestigious Ecole Polytechnique and the Ecole Normale, he placed first in both examinations. By 1838, he had become a lecturer in mathematics at the Ecole Polytechnique and in 1841, he also became a professor of applied mathematics at Ecole de Ponts et Chaussees.
In 1837, Wantzel became the first to prove the impossibility of duplicating the cube and trisecting an angle using only ruler and compass. The great Carl Friedrich Gauss had stated that both of these methods were impossible but had never provided proof.
In 1845, Wantzel gave a revised proof of Abel's Theorem on the impossibility of solving all equations of n ≥ 5 by radicals. In this presentation, Wantzel gave a revised proof of the one done by Paolo Ruffini. In all, he wrote over 20 works on a wide range of subjects.
By May 12, 1848, Wantzel's never-ending pattern of very hard work without break and opium-use caught up with him and he died at the very early age of 33.
... one could reproach him for having been too rebellious against those counselling prudence. He usually worked during the evening, not going to bed until late in the night, then reading, and got but a few hours of agitated sleep, alternatively abusing coffee and opium, taking his meals, until his marriage, at odd and irregular hours.One might wonder how why Wantzel doesn't rank with the greatest mathematicians. Without a doubt, he showed tremendous promise as a child and with all of his hard work, one wonders why he did not reach the highest heights in mathematics. Saint-Venant writes:
...I believe that this is mostly due ot the irregular manner in which he worked, to the excessive number of occupations in which he was engaged, to the continual movement and feverishness of his thoughts, and even to the abuse of his own facilities. Wantzel improvised more than he elaborated, he probably did not give himself the leisure nor the calm necessary to linger long on the same subject.References
- "Pierre Laurent Wantzel", MacTutor