Mathematical Apocrypha: Stories and Anecdotes of Mathematicians and the Mathematical (Spectrum Series)

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Brand new. We distribute directly for the publisher. Mathematical Apocrypha is a book of stories about mathematicians and the mathematical. It differs from other books of its ... kind in that it includes many stories about contemporary mathematicians. Many of these stories are derived from the author's direct or second-hand experience, and have never before appeared in print. The stories are told in a brisk and engaging style, and are enhanced by numerous photographs and illustrations. The theme of the book is strictly mathematical. Some of the stories, however, are about people who adhere to mathematics but cannot strictly be called mathematicians. Included are stories about Bertrand Russell, Alfred North Whitehead, and Albert Einstein, along with stories about mathematicians Erd??s, Doob, Besicovitch, Atiyah, Wiener, Mary Ellen and Walter Rudin, P??lya, Halmos, Littlewood and many, many more legendary mathematicians. Read more Show Less

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Overview

Mathematical Apocrypha is a book of stories about mathematicians and the mathematical.  It differs from other books of its kind in that it includes many stories about contemporary mathematicians.   Many of these stories are derived from the author's direct or second-hand experience, and have never before appeared in print. The stories are told in a brisk and engaging style, and are enhanced by numerous photographs and illustrations.

These stories convey the nature of mathematical enterprise, and give the reader a glimpse of mathematical culture. The author says in the Preface:

 I have  spent my entire adult life hanging around academics and have never  encountered a group that is so hell-bent on telling stories about each other as are mathematicians.  With this book I plant my flag as a storyteller. 

The theme of the book is strictly mathematical.  Some of the stories, however, are about people who adhere to mathematics but cannot strictly be called mathematicians.  Included are stories about Bertrand Russell, Alfred North Whitehead, and Albert Einstein, along with stories about mathematicians Erdös,  Doob, Besicovitch,  Atiyah, Wiener, Mary Ellen and Walter Rudin, Pólya, Halmos, Littlewood and many, many more legendary mathematicians.

This book will appeal to students from high school through graduate school, as well as to faculty, and to mathematical scientists of all stripes. 

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Editorial Reviews

Choice
"The stories offer poignant glimpses into the lives of mathematically involved people and into the events that make up the culture of mathematics. This is a fascinating book to be enjoyed by academics in many fields and students, both graduate and undergraduate. One can only hope Krantz will provide further collections of this type"
Michael Chechile
"Steven Krantz has compiled a wonderful collection of brief stories about mathematicians...For the mathematical professional, this volume is difficult to resist."
Academic Press, Journal of Mathematical Psychology
From The Critics
With the story of David Hilbert perplexedly asking a colleague, "What is a Hilbert space?" being a typical example, this work presents anecdotes about the practice of mathematics that range in tone from humorous to celebratory. The anecdotes are arranged under sections devoted to great foolishness, great affrontery, great ideas, great ideas, great failures, great pranks, and great people. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780883855393
  • Publisher: Mathematical Association of America
  • Publication date: 7/28/2002
  • Series: Spectrum Series
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 214
  • Product dimensions: 5.90 (w) x 8.90 (h) x 0.60 (d)

Read an Excerpt

Great Foolishness
George Mackey (1916- ) was with a group of other mathematicians on the free afternoon of a conference in New Mexico. They were engaged in a hike in the desert. The air was crisp and dry, the sky was blue and without clouds, the temperature was near 100[degrees], the hike was brisk.
 Mackey was wearing rain galoshes. Walter Rudin (1921- ) asked him why, and Mackey riplied, "Well, there is one less thing to worry about."
-
Presumably it was his preoccupation with mathematics that caused Stefan Bergman (1895-1977) to appear to be out of touch with reality at times. For example, one day he went to the beach in northern California with a group of people, including a friend of mine who told me this yarn. Northern California beaches are cold, so when Bergman came out of the water he decided that he had better change into his street cloths. As he wandered off into the parking lot, seeking the car where he could get his clothes and change,  his friends noticed that he was headed in the wrong direction. But they were used to this sort of behavior and paid him no mind. In a while Bergman returned-clothed- but plainly not in his own clothes. He exclaimed, "You know, there is the most unfriendly woman in our car!"
-
Logician Alfred Tarski (1902-1983) was actually named Teitelbaum. He changed his name to protect himself from anti-semitic prejudices. He hated to be called Teitelbaum. In 1958 Abram Besicovitch (1891-1970) ran into him and immediately began calling him "Teitelbaum." Tarski got angry and demanded that he not do so. He said, "You called me Teitelbaum the last time you saw me, whenever that was." Besicovitch said, "Yes it was at the International Congress in 1954."
-
Abram Besicovitch was of the old school, and he lived in times that are hard for us today to understand. In particular, he taught in England at a time when long distance phone calls were considered to be a real luxury. It was quite unusual for people to call ahead when going to visit someone. They would just jump in the car and go and hope to find the person at home.
 And this is what Besicovitch did. He drove for a couple of hours, and was overjoyed to find his old friend at home. They embraced warmly, and were soon involved in a detailed discussion of mathematics. After a time, the friend said, "Well, Abram. It is lunch time and you must be hungry. Let us eat." Which they did. After lunch they resumed their talk about mathematics. Five or six hours later the friend said, "Well, Abram it is time for dinner. Won't you join me? Besicovitch readily assented. "But," the friend said, "hadn't you better phone your wife? She is probably worried about you. Perhaps she is preparing dinner at your home." Besicovitch said, "No, she is not worried. She is waiting in the car."
-
Pete Casazza (1945- ) is an impish mathematician at the University of Missouri in Columbia. One semester he was assigned to teach a large calculus lecture. This was a task that Casazza had assumed many times before, and he was pretty good at it, but he was also tired of it. So he decided to take a new approach. He arranged for a "ringer"- someone who was not Casazza but who would pretend to be Casazza- to meet the class on the first day. Casazza sat in the audience near the front. The lecture began, and Casazza, affecting to be a student, peppered the lecturer with questions and comments. He found many faults with the presentation. The lecturer became increasingly frustrated and irritated. Finally, in exasperation, the lecturer threw down his chalk and cried, "All right. If you think you can do a better job then you teach the class." The then stormed out of the room. So Casazza took over.
-
G.H. Hardy (1877-1947) and J.E. Littlewood (1885-1977) discussed the concept of stage fright. They agreed that, for a lecture in front of the Royal Society, or a lecture at a foreign university, stage fright was not a problem. You knew what you were talking about, you were a ranking expert, you were among equals, and you could get up and strut your stuff. But in front of a calculus class, first lecture of the Fall term, there was definitely stage fright.
-
One day Shizuo Kakutani (1911- ) was teaching a class at Yale. He wrote down a lemma on the blackboard and announced that the proof was obvious. One student timidly raised his hand and said that it wasn't obvious to him. Could Kakutani explain? After several moments' thought, Kakutani realized that he could not himself prove the lemma. He apologized, and said that he would report back to their next class meeting.
 After class, Kakutani went straight to his office. He labored for quite a time and found that he could not prove the pesky lemma. He skipped lunch and went to the library to track down the lemma. After much work, he finally found the original paper. The lemma was stated clearly and succinctly. For the proof, the author has written, "Exercise for the reader." The author of this 1941 paper was Kakutani.
-
Norbert Wiener's (1894-1964) father was a distinguished linguist. Weiner followed in his father's footsteps, to the extent of learning many languages. He was particularly proud of his ability with Chinese.
 Wiener was once invited to lecture in China. He wanted to begin his first lecture with a little chance, so  he spoke some words. The Chinese listened very politely. It was later observed that what Wiener actually said was "The cow is green."
 One day Norbert Wiener, the harmonic analyst, Andre Weil (1906-1998), the algebraic geometer, S.S. Chen (1911- ), the Chinese geometer, and some others were riding in an elevator at MIT. Weil also knew some Chinese, and he knew that Wiener did too. So Wiener and Weil jabbered away in Chinese during the rather long elevator ride. After they got off, Chern turned to a graduate student and said, "Can you please tell me what language they were speaking?"
-
Wiener was invited to a dinner party in the Boston area. He was by far the most distinguished guest. Therefore the hostess took great pains to find out what dishes Wiener liked and planned the meal around them. When the guests sat down to dinner, Wiener took out a bag of peanuts and announced that that was what he was going to eat.
-
As we have noted elsewhere, Wiener was quite a celebrity around MIT. Students were in aw of him. Therefore, when one of this students spied Wiener in the post office, the student wanted to introduce himself to the famous professor. After all, how many MIT students could say that he had actually shaken the hand of Norbert Wiener? However, the student wasn't sure how to approach the famous savant. The problem was aggravated by the fact that Wiener was pacing back and forth, deeply lost in thought. Were the student to interrupt Wiener, who knows what profound idea might be lost? Still, the student screwed up his courage and approached the great man. "good morning, Professor Wiener." He said. The professor looked up, struck his forehead, and cried, "Wiener! That's the word."
-
In 1984, I (Steven G. Krantz, 1951- ) visited the University of Oslo in Norway to give a colloquium talk. I was told at the time that the county was in social upheaval- for two reasons that could be laid at the feet of the Americans. One is that the custom in Norway had been for everyone to do their shopping on Saturday mornings. People enjoyed the friendly hustle and bustle, liked meeting their neighbors, and took pleasure in buying groceries and other necessities. But now the tradition was broken because everyone was staying home to watch reruns of the television show Dynasty. The other catastrophe was that the custom in Norway had been for everyone to go to church on Sunday morning. But now-instead- everyone was lining up at the new McDonald's in downtown Oslo.
-
Yuri v. Uspenski told about the visit of an education commissar to the university where we was teaching in Russia after the Revolution. This commissar asked him about a course the math department taught called "the theory of ideals." Uspenski hurriedly informed him that the course had already been changed. The new course was called "the theory of classes."
-
There is a famous mathematician, son of one of the really eminent mathematicians of this century, who teaches at a large public university in this country. For reasons of discretion, we shall call him "Professor X." One day this scholar was teaching calculus. A student raised his hand and queried, "Professor X, what is 'infinity'?" The professor nodded seriously and said. "It is like a long line that never stops," and he proceeded to apply his chalk to the blackboard, walking in a determined manner toward the side of the room. When he reached the window he kept going, through and out the window. Suddenly, there was no teacher in the classroom. The students sat for several moments in bewildered silence, until finally one or their number went over to the window to determine what had become of Professor X. In fact the student could see him two floors below, spread eagled in the bushes (and unharmed).
-
one day Warren Ambrose (1914-1995) of MIT came to class with one shoelace tied and one untied. His students asked him whether he knew that his right shoelace was untied. Without hesitation, Ambrose adopted a quizzical look and said, "Oh my God, I tied the left one and thought the other must be tied by considerations of symmetry."
-
After John Nash (1928- ) won the Nobel Prize for Economics in 1994, a small ceremony was held in the Fine Hall Common Room at Princeton University. Nash was prevailed upon to make a few remarks. His first was, "I hope that getting the Nobel will improve my credit rating, because I really want a credit card."
-
A bright young mathematician- who shall remain nameless for reasons of discretion- had his first job at the Mittag-Leffler Institute and his second at Yale. Both are fairly intimate venues for doing mathematics. People must co-exist cheek-by-jowl, and extra care must be taken to be considerate of other people in the building. Well, our friend was young and brilliant and extremely boisterous. He had the nasty habit of jumping up in the middle of a seminar, running to the front of the room, grabbing the chalk from the lecturer, and taking over the proceedings. Whether he was right or not (and he frequently was right), people found that this behavior  grated on their nerves. A more senior member of the audience (both at Mittage-Leffler and at Yale)- a cynical Frenchman- developed the habit of drawling in disgust, "Take him to the prostitutes!"
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Table of Contents

Great Foolishness
Great Affrontery
Great Ideas
Great Failures
Great Pranks
Great People
Further Reading
Index
Read More Show Less

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