Undiluted Hocus-Pocus: The Autobiography of Martin Gardner [NOOK Book]


Martin Gardner wrote the Mathematical Games column for Scientific American for twenty-five years and published more than seventy books on topics as diverse as magic, religion, and Alice in Wonderland. Gardner’s illuminating autobiography is a candid self-portrait by the man evolutionary theorist Stephen Jay Gould called our “single brightest beacon” for the defense of rationality and good science against mysticism and anti-intellectualism.

Gardner takes readers from his ...

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Undiluted Hocus-Pocus: The Autobiography of Martin Gardner

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Martin Gardner wrote the Mathematical Games column for Scientific American for twenty-five years and published more than seventy books on topics as diverse as magic, religion, and Alice in Wonderland. Gardner’s illuminating autobiography is a candid self-portrait by the man evolutionary theorist Stephen Jay Gould called our “single brightest beacon” for the defense of rationality and good science against mysticism and anti-intellectualism.

Gardner takes readers from his childhood in Oklahoma to his varied and wide-ranging professional pursuits. He shares colorful anecdotes about the many fascinating people he met and mentored, and voices strong opinions on the subjects that matter to him most, from his love of mathematics to his uncompromising stance against pseudoscience. For Gardner, our mathematically structured universe is undiluted hocus-pocus—a marvelous enigma, in other words.

Undiluted Hocus-Pocus offers a rare, intimate look at Gardner’s life and work, and the experiences that shaped both.

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Editorial Reviews

The New York Times Book Review - Teller
Gardner writes with such frank pleasure, you find yourself surveying your own life for piquant and vivid memories…Gardner writes with authority and ease. You trust him to take you wherever he feels like going…His radiant self…shines at its sweetest, wittiest and most personal in Undiluted Hocus-Pocus.
Publishers Weekly
Polymath Gardner—writer, amateur magician, religious philosopher, pseudoscience debunker, and mathematical hobbyist—gives readers a conversational look into his diverse life and interests outside the cultural mainstream, from religion, science fiction, and poetry to magic, chess, and learning to play the saw (“If anything is worth doing, it’s worth doing badly”). After leading a “double life” as an amateur magician and philosophy major at the University of Chicago, Gardner was determined to make a living as a writer. Along the way, he held a string of jobs, including a stint in the Navy during WWII, and eventually landed in New York City, where his “Mathematical Games” column in Scientific American ran for more than 25 years—leading to friendships with cutting-edge mathematicians and scientists, as well as a vital secondary career debunking “bad science.” Readers who only know Gardner for his math and science writing will be surprised at his focus on religion, and this autobiography demonstrates his passion to explain and understand the world around him. (Oct.)
From the Publisher
One of American Association for the Advancement of Science’s Books for General Audiences and Young Adults 2014

"His radiant self lives on in his massive and luminous literary output and shines at its sweetest, wittiest and most personal in Undiluted Hocus-Pocus."—Teller, New York Times Book Review

"For those of us who believe that the sciences and the humanities don't have to be enemies, Martin Gardner is an inspiring model. Undiluted Hocus-Pocus reveals a man immersed in philosophy, religion and literature, even as he makes a career writing about science."—Jordan Ellenberg, Wall Street Journal

"Readers who only know Gardner for his math and science writing will be surprised at his focus on religion, and this autobiography demonstrates his passion to explain and understand the world around him."Publishers Weekly

"For half a century, Martin Gardner (1914-2010) was an international scientific treasure. . . . Gardner's passion for writing and his warmth and humour shine forth on every page of this book, making it a memoir of a great human being . . ."—David Singmaster, Nature

"The style is that of a memoir, conversationally phrased, and not afraid to be sidetracked occasionally by an amusing aside. Gardner paints vividly an inside picture of American intellectual life in the twentieth century, coloured by honest accounts of the many influential figures with whom he came into contact."—Alexander Shannon, Plus magazine

"His illuminating autobiography, Undiluted Hocus-Pocus . . . offers a rare, intimate look at Gardner's life and work."Mother Nature Network

"In summary, I give this book the highest praise that I can possibly give an autobiography: it was much too short."—Charles Ashbacher, MAA Reviews

"[Undiluted Hocus-Pocus] is the most sincere, unadulterated biography I ever read. . . . [D]etails of his life and personality exposed in the book help create a more complete picture of this fascinating person. . . . Martin Gardner had tremendous influence on several generations of young minds; his autobiography will help his fans appreciate how that came about. This is a book no one who ever heard his name would want to miss."Cut the Knot Insights blog

"I only wish his autobiography was twice as long, for I never tire of reading him and feeling enriched. . . . And thank you Martin for this last, final, further peek into your brilliant, fertile, curious, nimble, incisive, probing, captivating life and mind."Math Tango blog

"Undiluted Hocus-Pocus reminds us how Gardner taught many of us how to play the game of mathematics better."Mathrecreation blog

"A case can be made, in purely practical terms, for Martin Gardner as one of the most influential writers of the 20th century. His popularizations of science and mathematical games in Scientific American, over the 25 years he wrote for them, might have helped create more young mathematicians and computer scientists than any other single factor prior to the advent of the personal computer. . . . Gardner was capable of appealing to the literary side of left-brained sorts, and did so with . . . taste and restraint. . . . Undiluted Hocus-Pocus, his posthumously published autobiography . . . reveals the sort of mentality that shaped itself around his encyclopedic interests."—David Auerbach, Los Angeles Review of Books

"[This book] will be an eye-opener knowing that Martin Gardner was active on so many diverse fields."European Mathematical Society

"The book is just a delight to read . . ."—Stephen Hirtle, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

"Here my guru and sage brought together, over the course of two hundred pages, the full range of his interests—math, magic, philosophy, stories, poetry, science, religion, politics—and combined these disparate topics with an account of his private life and intellectual development. I enjoyed every page of this book."—Ted Gioia, Millions

"Reading Martin Gardner's autobiography is like spending a pleasant afternoon in the company of a 95-year-old man with sharp memories and a twinkle in his eye. Oh wait, that's what it is."Science Musings blog

"This book describes some of the pivotal moments in the life of prolific author/journalist Martin Gardner (1914-2010), who is best known for his illuminating and entertaining contributions to Scientific American magazine from 1956 to 1981. Fans of Martin Gardner will find this posthumously published autobiography fascinating . . ."Choice

"[H]ighly readable. Even those well familiar with Gardner's writings, although they will be acquainted with much of the ground covered, will still make several new discoveries. The foreword by Persi Diaconis will also interest mathematicians."—Leon Harkleroad, Zentralblatt Math

"A delightful book."—Peter E. Blau, Red Circle Society

"For all his fame, Gardner was a humble, generous man, always modest about his mathematical achievements. His humanity, humor, and sheer decency shine through every page. Reading this book is like chatting with him about his intellectually adventure-filled life for a whole weekend."—Colm Mulcahy, Math Horizons

"At the age of 95 he wrote this . . . charming and informative autobiography covering an incredibly prolific and productive life that should inspire anyone who encounters it."AAAS

Library Journal
Gardner, who died in 2010, was best known for his "Mathematical Games" column in Scientific American, which ran for 25 years, but he was not a trained mathematician. He was a magazine writer who happened to have a fascination with puzzles and magic—and much more. His column and his popular books of science and recreational math puzzles led many readers to enjoy those topics more than they thought possible. Gardner is also well known for his writing as a skeptic (e.g., Science: Good, Bad and Bogus) debunking the claims of pseudoscience. Unfortunately, what he calls his "rambling autobiography," evidently finished before his death, spends little time addressing these portions of his life, focusing instead on his poetry and religious philosophy. Even so, these anecdotes could have told an intriguing story had they not been presented in such a disjointed manner that they never flow. Sadly missing are details of Gardner's life. While he never mentions when he was born and other usual details of an autobiography, he spends several pages trying to convince the reader that L. Frank Baum (The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, etc.) was one of our greatest authors. VERDICT May disappoint all but the most avid Martin Gardner fans.—William Baer, Georgia Inst. of Technology Lib., Atlanta
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781400847983
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press
  • Publication date: 9/30/2013
  • Sold by: Barnes & Noble
  • Format: eBook
  • Edition description: Course Book
  • Pages: 288
  • Sales rank: 449,713
  • File size: 4 MB

Meet the Author

Martin Gardner (1914–2010) was an acclaimed popular mathematics and science writer. His numerous books include The Annotated Alice, When You Were a Tadpole and I Was a Fish, and Fads and Fallacies in the Name of Science.
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Table of Contents

Foreword: Magic, Mathematics, and Mysterians, by Persi Diaconis xi
Preface xxiii
Prologue: I Am a Mysterian xxv
1 Earliest Memories 1
2 Lee School 10
3 Tulsa Central High, I 21
4 Central High, II 28
5 Hutchins and Adler 40
6 Richard McKeon 47
7 I Lose My Faith 53
8 Chicago, I 62
9 Chicago, II 76
10 I Become a Journalist 88
11 Mother and Dad 98
12 The Navy, I 111
13 The Navy, II 119
PHOTO ESSAY follows page 124
14 Esquire and Humpty 125
15 Scientific American 134
16 Pseudoscience 150
17 Math and Magic Friends 160
18 Charlotte 173
19 Bob and Betty 185
20 God 191
21 My Philosophy 195
Afterword: My Most Elegant Friend . . . , by James Randi 209
Index 215
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