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Thursday, October 18, 2012

Thinking Of Gardner

(image via WikimediaCommons)

Truth be told, as much as I love Martin Gardner's recreational math writings (and his "Colossal Book of Mathematics" is certainly a fave), my VERY favorite Gardner outputs are his essays… on all manner of topics... and his books that anthologize them.
With the annual Gathering For Gardner celebration coming up this weekend (in honor of his birthday Oct. 21), and all the emphasis on Martin's mathematical contributions, I think it worth taking a moment to reiterate what an extraordinary essayist, in general, he was… succinct, clear, persuasive, logical, perceptive, thought-provoking, wide-ranging… on all manner of science, philosophy, and culture. I've remarked in the past (WITHOUT tongue-in-cheek), that I think American students would be better off if we tossed Shakespeare from the high school curriculum, and made reading Gardner's essays mandatory (...just my opinion).

Probably my single favorite of all Gardner's offerings is his volume, "The Night Is Large," a compendium of essays written from 1938 to 1995. "The Whys of a Philosophical Scrivener," "The Jinn From Hyperspace," and "Science: Good, Bad, and Bogus" are some other wonderful collections (and very little math in any of these), and there were others.

Gardner could also be a prankster-without-equal, pulling off certain classic April 1st jokes that played havoc with some of the erudite readers of his Scientific American column. However, possibly my own favorite shenanigan of his was a highly critical review/debunking (under the alias of 'George Groth') he himself wrote for the NY Times Review of Books of his own volume, "Whys of a Philosophical Scrivener." [in a quick search, I couldn't find a full (free) copy of the review online; if someone else finds it please send me the URL or give it in the comments].

I hope no one, in celebrating Martin, pigeon-holes him as a man of numbers, or of fun and games... he was most certainly a 'man of letters,' and I think, one of the finest this country has produced.

...Happy birthday Martin... ohh, and, have one hexaflexagon of a weekend everybody! ;-)




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