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Martin Gardner 1914-2010 May 23, 2010

Posted by David Speyer in Uncategorized.

Martin Gardner passed away yesterday, on Saturday, May 22. I’ve never met Gardner, but I grew up with his books and columns, ever since I discovered one of his Mathematical Games volumes in my local library.

Aha! Insight and Aha! Gotcha are my first recommendations for any bright kid who wants to stretch his mind. As an adult, whenever I want something new to think about, I can turn to the volumes of Scientific American columns. Every one is a clear presentation of an intriguing idea or puzzle. Gardner’s skeptical books helped teach me how to read and design a scientific study; and the adventures of Dr. Matrix showed how much fun it could be to discard skepticism and play with nonsense. And, if you enjoy Lewis Carroll, but have a feeling that many of the jokes are going over your head, you really owe it to yourself to pick up a copy of the Annotated Alice.

I hope Martin Gardner’s friends know how many people he helped and touched. For the rest of us, perhaps we could try to take something we love, and make it as exciting and accessible as Martin Gardner made mathematics for us.


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2. Scott Carnahan - May 24, 2010

I was also inspired by Gardner’s writing when I was young, and I was sad when he stopped writing for Scientific American.

While we’re on the subject of mathematicians recently leaving us, Walter Rudin passed away last Thursday. I don’t know much about him, but I learned a lot from his analysis texts. Here is a longer obituary.

3. Pete L. Clark - May 25, 2010

Douglas Hofstadter, another eminent public intellectual and writer who often adopts a more whimsical/hyperbolic style, was remarkably sober and precise when he wrote (more than 10 years ago) that Gardner was “one of the great intellects produced in this country in this century.” That’s not a hair more than absolute truth.

I mean, what intellectual — especially, what young intellectual — has not read at least some of Gardner’s writings, enjoyed them and been inspired by them? He was in a class by himself.

So to all I recommend especially “The Night Is Large”, a collection of essays written over a period of 50 years with commentary and updates written in the late 1990’s. What is especially nice about this book is that it gives some indication of the breadth as well as the depth of Gardner’s interests: yes, there are lovely articles on mathematics and pseudo-science, but he writes with equal facility and mastery on L. Frank Baum and the Klingon language.

4. Danny Calegari - May 26, 2010

The “Annotated Alice” was my favorite book as a child (there’s also the “Annotated Snark”), and I loved it as much for the annotation as for the “main” text.

5. Scott Taylor - May 26, 2010

In addition to his columns and the Annotated Alice, I love his introductions to G.K. Chesterton’s novels.

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