Recountings: Conversations with MIT Mathematicians

Recountings: Conversations with MIT Mathematicians

by Joel Segel (Editor)


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Recountings: Conversations with MIT Mathematicians by Joel Segel

This book traces the history of the MIT Department of Mathematics—one of the most important mathematics departments in the world—through candid, in-depth, lively conversations with a select and diverse group of its senior members. The process reveals much about the motivation, path, and impact of research mathematicians in a society that owes so much to this little understood and often mystifying section of its intellectual fabric.

At a time when the mathematical experience touches and attracts more laypeople than ever, such a book contributes to our understanding and entertains through its personal approach.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781568817132
Publisher: Taylor & Francis
Publication date: 04/15/2010
Pages: 330
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.50(d)

About the Author

Joel Segel, the editor and interviewer, is a writer with a background in the sciences and the son of an accomplished mathematician.

Table of Contents

Zipporah (Fagi) Levinson
Isadore M. Singer
Arthur P. Mattuck
Hartley Rogers
Gilbert Strang
Kenneth M. Hoffman
Alar Toomre
Steven L. Kleiman
Harvey P. Greenspan
Bertram Kostant
Michael Artin
Daniel J. Kleitman
Sigurdur Helgason

What People are Saying About This

Jay R. Goldman

"This book is a great read. I expected a routine collection of interviews of mathematicians at MIT. I was wrong! I was treated to not only the interesting stories of individual mathematicians but also the fascinating tale of how a small mathematics department with one star, the eccentric Norbert Wiener, became one of the major research departments in the world. A small number of people accomplished this by their ability to spot, attract, and, most importantly, nurture great talent, while running the department rather autocratically. At the same time various faculty pioneered advances in undergraduate education and had significant influence on the general affairs of MIT."--(Jay R. Goldman, Emeritus Professor of Mathematics, University of Minnesota, and author of The Queen of Mathematics: A Historically Motivated Guide to Number Theory)

Alan Lightman

"Recountings vividly conveys the passion and the intense intellectual curiosity and the 'drug addiction' that mathematicians have for their subject, the guild-like nature of their craft, the definite way that each mathematician rates other mathematicians, and even a bit of the beauty of the mathematical world, which exists without air or soil, exists only on pure logic."--(Alan Lightman, author of Einstein's Dreams)

From the Publisher

Recountings provides a history of the MIT Mathematics Department, as told through interviews conducted with 12 of its current and former faculty members, plus Zipporah (Fagi) Levinson, widow of Norman Levinson (and one-time 'den mother' of the department). . . . What emerges is a piecemeal yet compelling portrait of the department's rapid post-WW II transformation from a program largely focused on offering mathematical instruction to engineering students, to a world-class research enterprise. Along the way, readers encounter tales about the inimitable and eccentric Norbert Wiener, but also learn how longtime department head W. T. Martin and driving force Norman Levinson—and many others—oversaw the department's growth, crafted its faculty, managed the conflicts between the pure and applied mathematicians, and maintained strength in both research and education. Academic mathematicians (including those lacking any MIT connection) will find much to enjoy, and academic administrators much to consider emulating. . . . Highly recommended.
CHOICE Magazine, July 2009

Recountings tells of the influential US mathematics department at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) through interviews with a dozen faculty members by author Joel Segel. . . The interest in teaching among these senior faculty members is broad and deep. . . The professors share their strategies for achieving research success, from working on prize problems to developing an intuitive feel for proofs. They explain how new research directions have come from interactions with students and colleagues or from writing a review article. . . [T]he insights in [this book] will inspire mathematicians and scientists to come.
NATURE, August 2009

Students currently contemplating or pursuing a mathematics-related career should find MIT's oral history illuminating and thought provoking. It is a remarkable institutional story, recalled and superbly narrated by those much concerned.
— H. Don Allen, Mathematics Teacher, November 2009

The book as a whole is a fascinating mosaic of the rise of a mathematical department to a prominent position among the world's most distinguished mathematical institutions. In addition to this, the interviews reaveal facets of the process of mathematical discovery, the motivations of the scientists and the social contexts in which they carried out their work. Thus the stories in the book will be of interest to mathematicians and non-mathematicians alike.
— Karl-Heinz Schlote, Mathematiacl Reviews, June 2010

There is a growing library of books comprising part of our [mathematics] subculture’s collective mythology and sociology, or rather (if we’re honest), our sources for gossipy tales, tall and otherwise.The book under review, Recountings: Conversations with MIT Mathematicians, qualifies in spades. It’s full of really good stuff . . . these offerings are in the form of interviews, much along the lines of the way Mathematical People and More Mathematical People were set up—and equally successfully. It all reads very well, and is incredibly fascinating . . . It’s a terrifically interesting book, and just plain fun. I’ll read it again and again.
— Michael Berg, MAA Reviews, March 2009

Though never in the eye of popular culture, these men kept society advancing with their minds. Recountings: Conversations with MIT Mathematicians is a collection of interviews and anecdotes fiom the geniuses of MIT who have pursued mathematics as their life's careers and obsessions. These men have been responsible for major scientific advances throughout history and picking their minds in a volume that's more interesting than one could think math class could ever be. Recountings is an intriguing look at mathematics and the men behind it.
Library Bookwatch, May 2009

Tom Leighton

"These stories reveal the personalities, motivations, and social climate around the work of mathematical discovery. These conversations will fascinate non-mathematicians and colleagues alike and inspire young people to seek careers in one of the most important areas of science."--(Tom Leighton, Akamai cofounder, Professor of Applied Mathematics at MIT)

Marc Kastner

"Joel Segel's interviews tell the personal stories of mathematicians during the 1950s and 1960s, at a formative time in MIT's great Math Department. It is marvelous reading for anyone interested in the human side of science."--(Marc Kastner, Dean of Science, MIT)

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