kitchen table math, the sequel: Martin Gardner, RIP

Friday, May 28, 2010

Martin Gardner, RIP

from City Journal:
The first time I encountered a column in Scientific American entitled “Mathematical Games,” I thought it was a contradiction in terms. Along with most English majors, I equated math with drudgery, not diversion. Then I read the piece. Its author, Martin Gardner, showed me how wrong I was. Over the years, he also showed me (and a few million others) how to understand topics that ranged from the left-handedness of molecules to the devious origins of Scientology to the secrets of sleight-of-hand artists to the in-jokes of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. So it came as no surprise that when Gardner died last week at 95, he was mourned not only by mathematicians and physicists but by magicians, literary scholars, theologians, crossword-puzzle fans, writers, and editors. Indeed, the author of some 80 books was a classic example of the polymath (according to Webster’s: “From the Greek polymathēs, ‘having learned much’; a person, with superior intelligence, whose expertise spans a significant number of subject areas”).
The son of an Oklahoma-based oil prospector, Gardner gave no hint of what was to come when he attended local schools in Tulsa. He went on to the University of Chicago, majoring in philosophy and attending a wide variety of courses—but not a single one in math. “Beyond calculus,” he was to confess, “I am lost. The only way I could comprehend higher mathematics was to make a game of it.” Gamesmanship became an integral part of his long life—and perhaps the most important part.
“Sometimes I think it would be nice to grow up,” he liked to say well into his 90s. “Other times I think, ‘Why bother?’”

The Mathemagician
Martin Gardner, R.I.P.
Stefan Kanfer
City Journal
27 May 2010


palisadesk said...

I was always a fan of Gardner’s columns, and have a few of his books as well. Sorry to hear he is gone. If you enjoy recreational mathematics, I also recommend a volumes of short stories edited by Clifton Fadiman: Fantasia Mathematica which includes a couple of Gardner’s stories as well as ones by writers like Arthur C. Clarke, George Gamov, Heinlein and others as well as a later volume (also edited by Fadiman) entitled The Mathematical Magpie which includes poems and epigrams as well as stories.

I first read these as a teen and found “The 9 Billion Names of God” and “John Jones’ Dollar” to be especially memorable, along with a story (can’t recall the title) about some people who entered a Moebius subway system…

Catherine Johnson said...

that sounds wonderful - !