I, Mathematician (Spectrum)

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9780883855850: I, Mathematician (Spectrum)
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Mathematicians have pondered the psychology of the members of our tribe probably since mathematics was invented, but for certain since Hadamard s The Psychology of Invention in the Mathematical Field. The editors asked two dozen prominent mathematicians (and one spouse thereof) to ruminate on what makes us different. The answers they got are thoughtful, interesting and thought-provoking.

Not all respondents addressed the question directly. Michael Atiyah reflects on the tension between truth and beauty in mathematics. T.W. Körner, Alan Schoenfeld and Hyman Bass chose to write, reflectively and thoughtfully, about teaching and learning. Others, including Ian Stewart and Jane Hawkins, write about the sociology of our community. Many of the contributions range into philosophy of mathematics and the nature of our thought processes. Any mathematician will find much of interest here.

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What do mathematicians think of themselves, and what do others think of them? A large and diverse group of mathematicians and mathematical people were assembled to offer their views on these matters. These contributions represent a vast array of perspectives on the psychology of the mathematician.

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This book is a collection of 25 essays, each of which loosely describes the nature of a mathematician--the what's, the how's, and the why's--from the perspective of two dozen mathematicians and one spouse.

Each essay in this collection includes glimpses of how each writer became a mathematician. Each essayist exhibited ability in math at an early age. And each of them had opportunities to choose other career paths. For example in essay 20, Harold Boas simply says, "With a push in the right direction, I may have become a [literary critic], a historian, or a linguist." But time and chance and ability and interest led each of the essayists to mathematics, sometimes despite the mathematics. The most charming of the essays, essay 19, vividly illustrates this point. Mei-Chi Shaw recounts her life as a young girl born to refugee parents on Taiwan in the aftermath of the 1949 communist takeover in China, her odyssey to a full graduate scholarship at Princeton, and her being "totally clueless" in much of her classwork during her first year there in 1977, and later on to her decision to write a complex variables text that would "be so clear that we could explain it to someone on the street," and her frequent visits to China to give mathematics talks.

Any mathematician or prospective mathematician reading this book will find much to admire therein, much to question, and much about which to reminisce. As I read, I could not help but think of my early days learning how to add integers up through twenty, and later on in graduate school, the varieties of instruction encountered, the joy of collaboration with another like mind, and more recently, the many math manuscript rejections received, and a few that were accepted. All in all, this collection of essays will be a valued resource in the continuing discussion of characterizing mathematicians and mathematical communities. --Andrew James Simoson, Mathematical Reviews Clippings

I, Mathematician is a collection of essays, anecdotes, personal beliefs, and lists by 25 contributors that explain the madness, happiness, stressfulness, and pride that draw mathematicians to and keep them in the profession. The book consists of responses to three prompts--"Who Are Mathematicians?"; "On Becoming a Mathematician"; Why I Becam a Mathematician"-- by well-known mathematicians as well as others closely associated with these scholars. The authors offer both humor and somber revelations about the profession to which they have devoted their lives, providing a better understanding and new perspectives of a profession often viewed as beyond the abilities of most students.

The book as a whole satisfies by presenting many sides of a topic, thus appealing to a wide range of readers. Some of the essays are very math heavy and appeal to more scholarly readers, whereas others contain very little math and are more anecdotal. Some responses seem overly critical of those outside the profession, but these are balanced by humorous presentations in which the authors laugh at themselves and their own quirks.

The diversity of the writing offers a little something for everyone. --Mathematics Teacher

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