Sunday, July 28, 2019

What I Been Readin’ Lately

1)  If you enjoy biographies, especially those of modern day mathematicians, then John Urschel’s autobiographical “Mind and Matter” is a must read. It’s breezy, relatively brief, and fascinating. All lives are unique, but Urschel’s account of a career weaving together his cerebral pursuit of advanced mathematics and his love of more brutish professional football is an especially surprising read. Urschel juxtaposes his two passions, chapter by chapter, in a manner that, if written as a novel, readers would never find believable… except of course it’s not a novel, it’s his real life! And he still has a long way to go in a math career that is just getting underway. Definitely inspiring to see how someone melded together two such disparate career interests/passions in one lifetime. Recommended.

2)  I missed the first two volumes of The Mathematics of Various Entertaining Subjectsbecause they were out of my price range! But I had no doubt these volumes were excellent coming from Jennifer Beineke and Jason Rosenhouse (I’ve enjoyed all of Rosenhouse’s writing in the past) and Princeton University Press — the books are beautifully produced, but I’m still not sure the reason for the high price that limits their audience. Anyway, Volume 3 showed up in my mail as a review copy (hitting stores in August), and every chapter feels a little like opening a Christmas present in July! It’s like reading an all-new volume of Martin Gardner pieces, except these wonderfully diverse entries of course come, not from Martin, but from current, great math explicators. A back cover blurb says the book “focuses on four areas: puzzles and brainteasers, games, algebra and number theory, and geometry and topology” — I mean that alone should get you drooling for a copy!

By the way, the awkward, inelegant title of these volumes, stems from a conference each year called “Mathematics of Various Entertaining Subjects” (“MOVES” for short). I do think a far more enticing title is possible, but the entries come directly from that conference, and too late now to change it.

Of course the other thing I've been reading lately is a lighter version of "Mathematics of Various Entertaining Subjects" known as the "The Big Internet Math-Off" contest entries, and we are now down to the grand finale. Sameer Shah and Sophie Carr have fought their way to the end and will face-off this coming Tuesday for the undisputed crown. It's been a splendid, diverse run, and a shame that Christian (who runs it) couldn't bend the rules this year and have simply settled for a 4-way tie at the end! ;) Congrats to all involved. Recreational math is in good hands.

And this must be the Year-of-Calculus in the book trade! Yesterday in my local Barnes & Noble I saw Oscar Fernandez's "Calculus Simplified" newly in stock (this is Oscar's third popular calculus volume, by the way), and in a few months Ben Orlin's treatment of the subject should be out, all following the rousing success of Steven Strogatz's "Infinite Powers." In my lifetime I've seen an amazing evolution of calculus from a rarified subject primarily only for the most advanced, to mass-audience books in non-college bookstores introducing the subject on a regular basis.

Finally, while I'm passing along ways to wile away your time I'll mention this Sean Carroll hour+ "Mindscape" (podcast) episode from early July that I really enjoyed on "music and the brain" with Indre Viskontas (not much math, but fascinating stuff):
If by any chance you're not already familiar with Dr. Carroll's podcast you should check out his list of prior wide-ranging episodes/guests.

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