Saturday, April 4, 2009

By These My Son Be Admonished

As I was saying a moment ago.

A Short Account of the History of Mathematics (W.W. Rouse Ball) is, as its back cover claims, one of the most honored histories of mathematics. Its influence is incalculable. I've owned one copy before this but I gave it away or had it stolen. This one appears to date from the late 60s or so and arrived only slightly shopworn (and with a dealer mark indicating previous ownership inside). The glue was pretty stiff but I was able to crack it in gently in several places without damage and could now hand it to a random reader without fear of having the spine cracked like a dried twig. Which happens more than you would think.

A Long Way from Euclid is Constance Reid's lay-level history of geometry. Reid is a great popularizer; I read her biography of Hilbert in grad school (twice). Her sister was a famous mathematician (to the extent that such a thing existed in the 20th century...). This looks like a good volume to give away to a beginner I'm trying to convert to the faith (after a good looking-over, of course...).

Facts on File Dictionary of Mathematics (John Daintith & Richard Rennie). I'm a sucker for a dictionary. This one's like new except for a bookplate from the reference section of some library. I'll set it on the desk downtown for a while until I get the feel of it. It'll obviously never compare to my beloved Universal Encyclopedia of Mathematics (New American Library). That's scholarship for the masses on a scale undreamed of since, say, the Reagan Revolution. A buck and a half would get this "translation of a widely used German compendium" in the mid-sixties. You'd see all kinds of great reading right up in the very dimestores and bus stations in those days. The establishment was soon to find out that having more and more well-educated people all the time wasn't exactly in their interest and took steps. But that's my life fucking story. We were talking about the Facts on File thing. Looks pretty good of its kind.

The Archimdedes Codex: How a medieval prayer book is revealing the true genius of antiquity's greatest scientist (Reviel Netz & William Noel). My dad claimed in some book he did in the sixties that he didn't know exactly what the word "palimpsest" meant. Because, even though he'd long since had a pretty good idea of it, he hadn't looked it up. I know this because he was showing me an office on a campus new to me and I saw it there in whatever of his books it was in. And I offered to tell him what it meant exactly and he sort of waved it away as if he didn't want to break the jinx. But my dad had a raging love of words and I'll bet he knew all along. Anyhow, this is about a palimpsest. I've got quite a thing for old books... and Archy? Well, let's just say "antiquity's greatest scientist" is probably putting it too mildly.

Mathematics in Civilization (H.L. Resnikoff & R.O. Wells, Jr.) is a history-of-math text (with exercises). Gorgeous monochrome pages outclass many a hugely more expensive text. I'll be stealing something from this soon if only to have an excuse to bring it to class and wave it around.

Most of these will live downtown in the barracks. Indefinitely I hope. Tomorrow I've got to write a burst of emails quitting the tutoring and we'll see how everybody feels after all that settles down.

Meanwhile, I leave you with this. The Mad One is off at the annual Libra party with a bunch of people she knew from before me. I went once and so can get off the hook. Anyway it's mostly women and they like it that way. So a couple of same, a couple we've hung out with quite a bit, came and picked her up and, in the way these things happen sometimes, girltalk, whatever, "male menopause" gets mentioned and I realize suddenly: oh, that's the name of this crisis I'm in these days...