Loving and Hating Mathematics: Challenging the Myths of Mathematical Life

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Overview

Mathematics is often thought of as the coldest expression of pure reason. But few subjects provoke hotter emotions--and inspire more love and hatred--than mathematics. And although math is frequently idealized as floating above the messiness of human life, its story is nothing if not human; often, it is all too human. Loving and Hating Mathematics is about the hidden human, emotional, and social forces that shape mathematics and affect the experiences of students and mathematicians. Written in a lively, accessible style, and filled with gripping stories and anecdotes, Loving and Hating Mathematics brings home the intense pleasures and pains of mathematical life.

These stories challenge many myths, including the notions that mathematics is a solitary pursuit and a "young man's game," the belief that mathematicians are emotionally different from other people, and even the idea that to be a great mathematician it helps to be a little bit crazy. Reuben Hersh and Vera John-Steiner tell stories of lives in math from their very beginnings through old age, including accounts of teaching and mentoring, friendships and rivalries, love affairs and marriages, and the experiences of women and minorities in a field that has traditionally been unfriendly to both. Included here are also stories of people for whom mathematics has been an immense solace during times of crisis, war, and even imprisonment--as well as of those rare individuals driven to insanity and even murder by an obsession with math.

This is a book for anyone who wants to understand why the most rational of human endeavors is at the same time one of the most emotional.

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Editorial Reviews

New York Times Magazine
Loving and Hating Mathematics, by Reuben Hersh and Vera John-Steiner: Mathematicians also happen to be full of emotion.
— Tyler Cowen
Nature
Mathematics gets a bad press. Its practitioners are often portrayed as aloof hyper-rationalists with oodles of logic but no emotional intelligence. Not so, say mathematician Reuben Hersh and linguist Vera John-Steiner. Focusing on the emotional side of the discipline, they reveal mathematicians' passions, collaborations and love affairs. The stories range from those who sought solace in equations to some who were driven to murder by a maths obsession.
Science
Wisely used, the book could infuse the important issue of students' emotions into debates about mathematics education . . .
— Lynn Arthur Steen
Booklist
A book rescuing the full humanity of mathematicians from misleading stereotypes.
Times Higher Education
[A] provocative new book. . . . This thoroughly entertaining book highlights vitally important issues [in mathematics].
— Tony Mann
Math-Frolic blog
I do recommend the work to the interested mathematics observer . . . especially if you already love mathematics.
Albuquerque Journal
There's material for a thousand movie scripts in the vignettes—warm, funny, tragic or horrifying—that stud the pages of Loving and Hating Mathematics. . . . [The authors] aim to put a human face on the impulses that drive us to—or from—math. . . . The book offers insights into an important world invisible to many of us.
Santa Fe New Mexican
The book is heady with mathematical aha moments and will serve brilliantly as a virtual support group for mathematicians who feel isolated by the false notion that mathematicians are isolated.
Choice
When it comes to the culture of mathematics, there are a few books by mathematicians, aimed at a general audience, that are extremely popular with mathematics faculty. As these books have aged, dozens more have appeared that reproduce some of their best quotes and anecdotes. Fortunately, Hersh and John-Steiner have gone beyond these classic sources and made use of many others. They have also included their own insights so that even an interested individual with a broad background will find much that is new in this up-to-date volume—enough to easily justify purchasing the work. For someone with a more limited exposure to popular mathematics, their book is even better.
Irish Mathematical Society Bulletin
[A]n entertaining, useful, and provocative book. . . . I recommend this book for school and university libraries, and for prizes. It is priced to be affordable by the public, and worth owning.
— Anthony G. O'Farrell
SIAM News
The inner circle of pure mathematicians will respond to the book with delight.
— Philip J. Davis
Mathematical Intelligencer
Loving and Hating is a book filled with gems. We could open it on any page and find something interesting. It is imbued with the authors' love of mathematics and respect for people. The message that mathematics is a fundamentally human activity, in which people can find meaning and joy, is clearly conveyed. . . . This book may be of special interest to graduate students in mathematics as part of an introduction to the stories and culture of the community that they are joining.
— Jonathan M. Borwein and Judy-Anne Osborn
Mathematics Teacher
[Loving and Hating Mathematics] . . . is easy to read; one does not need a degree in mathematics to make sense of the content. A major strength is the attention given to mathematicians of different nationalities, genders, and ethnicities. . . . I recommend this book to all mathematicians and mathematics educators.
SIAM Review
One can expect this book to become a classic. We can be thankful the octogenarian authors didn't believe Hardy.
— Robert E. O'malley, Jr
American Mathematical Monthly
This is a marvelous book. . . . On the pages of this book there is always something more to keep one from putting it down. . . . [T]his deftly written exploration of the strengths and foibles of mathematicians we see that on the whole mathematicians may not be all that different from those who have intellectually gone in other directions. Doing mathematics, like many other professional endeavors, is a human activity. Reading this book is unfailingly informative—it's also a lot of fun to read.
— Gerald L. Alexanderson
New York Times Magazine - Tyler Cowen
Loving and Hating Mathematics, by Reuben Hersh and Vera John-Steiner: Mathematicians also happen to be full of emotion.
Science - Lynn Arthur Steen
Wisely used, the book could infuse the important issue of students' emotions into debates about mathematics education . . .
Times Higher Education - Tony Mann
[A] provocative new book. . . . This thoroughly entertaining book highlights vitally important issues [in mathematics].
Irish Mathematical Society Bulletin - Anthony G. O'Farrell
[A]n entertaining, useful, and provocative book. . . . I recommend this book for school and university libraries, and for prizes. It is priced to be affordable by the public, and worth owning.
SIAM News - Philip J. Davis
The inner circle of pure mathematicians will respond to the book with delight.
Mathematical Intelligencer - Jonathan M. Borwein and Judy-anne Osborn
The descriptions in Loving and Hating are sympathetic and understandable. The lives that Hersh and John-Steiner have led have allowed them to get up-close and personal with a species (mathematicians, and more generally people whose work is creative thinking) whose world many people don't ordinarily get to see, and may welcome a window into.
SIAM Review - Robert E. O'malley
One can expect this book to become a classic. We can be thankful the octogenarian authors didn't believe Hardy.
Mathematical Intelligencer - Jonathan M. Borwein and Judy-Anne Osborn
Loving and Hating is a book filled with gems. We could open it on any page and find something interesting. It is imbued with the authors' love of mathematics and respect for people. The message that mathematics is a fundamentally human activity, in which people can find meaning and joy, is clearly conveyed. . . . This book may be of special interest to graduate students in mathematics as part of an introduction to the stories and culture of the community that they are joining.
American Mathematical Monthly - Gerald L. Alexanderson
This is a marvelous book. . . . On the pages of this book there is always something more to keep one from putting it down. . . . [T]his deftly written exploration of the strengths and foibles of mathematicians we see that on the whole mathematicians may not be all that different from those who have intellectually gone in other directions. Doing mathematics, like many other professional endeavors, is a human activity. Reading this book is unfailingly informative—it's also a lot of fun to read.
From the Publisher

"Loving and Hating Mathematics, by Reuben Hersh and Vera John-Steiner: Mathematicians also happen to be full of emotion."--Tyler Cowen, New York Times Magazine's Very Short Reviews

"Mathematics gets a bad press. Its practitioners are often portrayed as aloof hyper-rationalists with oodles of logic but no emotional intelligence. Not so, say mathematician Reuben Hersh and linguist Vera John-Steiner. Focusing on the emotional side of the discipline, they reveal mathematicians' passions, collaborations and love affairs. The stories range from those who sought solace in equations to some who were driven to murder by a maths obsession."--Nature

"Wisely used, the book could infuse the important issue of students' emotions into debates about mathematics education . . ."--Lynn Arthur Steen, Science

"[T]he volume is quite entertaining, surprising in parts, and mostly convincing in its myth-demolition assignment."--Library Journal

"A book rescuing the full humanity of mathematicians from misleading stereotypes."--Booklist

"[A] provocative new book. . . . This thoroughly entertaining book highlights vitally important issues [in mathematics]."--Tony Mann, Times Higher Education

"I do recommend the work to the interested mathematics observer . . . especially if you already love mathematics."--Math-Frolic blog

"There's material for a thousand movie scripts in the vignettes--warm, funny, tragic or horrifying--that stud the pages of Loving and Hating Mathematics. . . . [The authors] aim to put a human face on the impulses that drive us to--or from--math. . . . The book offers insights into an important world invisible to many of us."--Albuquerque Journal

"The book is heady with mathematical aha moments and will serve brilliantly as a virtual support group for mathematicians who feel isolated by the false notion that mathematicians are isolated."--Santa Fe New Mexican

"When it comes to the culture of mathematics, there are a few books by mathematicians, aimed at a general audience, that are extremely popular with mathematics faculty. As these books have aged, dozens more have appeared that reproduce some of their best quotes and anecdotes. Fortunately, Hersh and John-Steiner have gone beyond these classic sources and made use of many others. They have also included their own insights so that even an interested individual with a broad background will find much that is new in this up-to-date volume--enough to easily justify purchasing the work. For someone with a more limited exposure to popular mathematics, their book is even better."--Choice
"[A]n entertaining, useful, and provocative book. . . . I recommend this book for school and university libraries, and for prizes. It is priced to be affordable by the public, and worth owning."--Anthony G. O'Farrell, Irish Mathematical Society Bulletin

"The inner circle of pure mathematicians will respond to the book with delight."--Philip J. Davis, SIAM News

"The descriptions in Loving and Hating are sympathetic and understandable. The lives that Hersh and John-Steiner have led have allowed them to get up-close and personal with a species (mathematicians, and more generally people whose work is creative thinking) whose world many people don't ordinarily get to see, and may welcome a window into."--Jonathan M. Borwein and Judy-anne Osborn, Mathematical Intelligencer

"[Loving and Hating Mathematics] . . . is easy to read; one does not need a degree in mathematics to make sense of the content. A major strength is the attention given to mathematicians of different nationalities, genders, and ethnicities. . . . I recommend this book to all mathematicians and mathematics educators."--Mathematics Teacher

"One can expect this book to become a classic. We can be thankful the octogenarian authors didn't believe Hardy."--Robert E. O'malley, Jr, SIAM Review

"Loving and Hating is a book filled with gems. We could open it on any page and find something interesting. It is imbued with the authors' love of mathematics and respect for people. The message that mathematics is a fundamentally human activity, in which people can find meaning and joy, is clearly conveyed. . . . This book may be of special interest to graduate students in mathematics as part of an introduction to the stories and culture of the community that they are joining."--Jonathan M. Borwein and Judy-Anne Osborn, Mathematical Intelligencer

"This is a marvelous book. . . . On the pages of this book there is always something more to keep one from putting it down. . . . [T]his deftly written exploration of the strengths and foibles of mathematicians we see that on the whole mathematicians may not be all that different from those who have intellectually gone in other directions. Doing mathematics, like many other professional endeavors, is a human activity. Reading this book is unfailingly informative--it's also a lot of fun to read."--Gerald L. Alexanderson, American Mathematical Monthly

Library Journal
This book is much more about mathematicians than about mathematics. The authors—both retired academics—lay out a number of common beliefs about mathematics and its practitioners and then set forth to debunk the beliefs as "myths." The myths include, e.g., that math is a solitary pursuit of cold-blooded logic, the great advances in the field are generally achieved by young adults, and top mathematicians are almost invariably white males. The authors quote many anecdotes drawn from published biographies, Internet sources, and Hersh's personal recollections as a research mathematician. In general, the volume is quite entertaining, surprising in parts, and mostly convincing in its myth-demolition assignment. VERDICT General readers interested in math and science and specialists will find this fascinating and often amusing.—Jack W. Weigel, Ann Arbor, MI
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780691142470
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press
  • Publication date: 1/2/2011
  • Pages: 428
  • Sales rank: 858,737
  • Product dimensions: 6.30 (w) x 9.20 (h) x 1.50 (d)

Meet the Author


Reuben Hersh is professor emeritus of mathematics at the University of New Mexico and the coauthor of "The Mathematical Experience", which won the National Book Award. He is also the author of "What Is Mathematics, Really?" Vera John-Steiner is professor emerita of linguistics and education at the University of New Mexico. Her books include "Notebooks of the Mind", which won the William James Book Award from the American Psychological Association.
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Table of Contents


Acknowledgments ix
Introduction 1
Chapter 1: Mathematical Beginnings 9
Chapter 2: Mathematical Culture 46
Chapter 3: Mathematics as Solace 89
Chapter 4: Mathematics as an Addiction: Following Logic to the End 106
Chapter 5: Friendships and Partnerships 138
Chapter 6: Mathematical Communities 176
Chapter 7: Gender and Age in Mathematics 228
Chapter 8: The Teaching of Mathematics: Fierce or Friendly? 273
Chapter 9: Loving and Hating School Mathematics 301
Conclusions 334
Review of the Literature 339
Biographies 349
Notes 385
Index of Names 403
General Index 410
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