Carnot, Lazare Nicolas Marguerite

Carnot, Lazare Nicolas Marguerite

Carnot, Lazare Nicolas Marguerite (läzärˈ nēkôläˈ märgərētˈ) (kärnōˈ), 1753–1823, French revolutionary, known as the organizer of victory for his role in the French Revolutionary Wars. A military engineer by training, Carnot became the military genius of the Revolution and was chiefly responsible for the success of the French in the wars. A member of the Legislative Assembly, the Convention, and the Committee of Public Safety, he made himself almost indispensable through his military knowledge. After the fall of Maximilien Robespierre, who was primarily responsible for the Reign of Terror, Carnot managed to avoid punishment for his own part in the Terror and became a member of the Directory. He was ousted from the Directory in the coup of 18 Fructidor (Sept., 1797) and fled abroad. He returned in 1799 and served as minister of war (1800) and in the tribunate under Napoleon Bonaparte (Napoleon I). In the next few years he wrote several works on mathematics and military engineering; in 1810 appeared his masterpiece, De la défense des places fortes, long considered the classic work on fortification. Carnot was the best-known advocate of the principle of active defense. In 1814 he returned to active service and conducted the defense of Antwerp. In the Hundred Days he served as minister of the interior. Exiled after the restoration of the monarchy, he died in Magdeburg, Prussia.


See biographies by H. Dupre (1940) and M. Reinhard (2 vol., 1950–52, in French).

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Carnot, Lazare Nicolas Marguerite


Born May 13, 1753, in Nolay; died Aug. 2, 1823, in Magdeburg. French statesman and military figure, mathematician. Member of the Institut de France (1796). Member of the Legislative Assembly of 1791–92 and of the Convention of 1792–95.

During the Jacobin dictatorship, Carnot was a member of the Committee of Public Safety (from 1793). He emerged as a major military organizer of the struggle against the interventionists and royalists; contemporaries called him the “organizer of victory.” During the Thermidorian reaction, in July 1794, he opposed M. Robespierre. From 1795 to 1797, Carnot was a member of the Directory. After the coup of 18 Fructidor, he fled abroad. In 1800 he returned to France. From April to August 1800, he was minister of war. In March 1802 he became a member of the Tribunate. Carnot voted against the Empire, although he remained a supporter of Napoleon. During the Hundred Days in 1815, he was minister of the interior in Napoleon’s government; he received the title of count. After the second restoration of the Bourbons, he was exiled from France in 1815.

Carnot’s mathematical works deal with analysis and geometry. In his Reflections on the Metaphysics of the Calculus of Infinitely Small Numbers (1797), Carnot argued in favor of the correctness of the results of this calculus. Carnot’s study of various means of substantiating analysis, including the methods of exhaustion, prime numbers, and limits, as well as his critique of Lagrange’s theory of analytic functions, partially prepared the way for the reform of analysis in the early 19th century. In his works On the Correlation of Geometric Figures (1801), Position Geometry (1803), and Theory of Transversals (1806), Carnot appeared as the forerunner of J. Poncelet and the other creators of projective geometry. Carnot also wrote a number of works on applied mechanics (Experiments on Machines in General, 1783) and on fortification (On the Defense of Fortresses, vols. 1–3, 1810).


In Russian translation:
Razmyshleniia o metafizike ischisleniia beskonechno malykh, 2nd ed. Moscow-Leningrad, 1936. (Contains bibliography.)


Reinhard, M. Le Grand Carnot, vols. 1–2. Paris, 1950–52
The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.