martin gardner, rip & calculus made easy!

The Annotated Alice‘ of Lewis Carrol and Martin Gardner’ was (finally) returned a couple of weeks back by Rama and I was fondly leafing through it, before sentimentally returning it to the library shelves. It is currently rubbing shoulders with the books of the likes of  Isaac Asimov, JBS Haldane, Erwin Schrödinger, Enrico Fermi, Paul Dirac et al and should be feeling happy now; what a work of deep scholarship!

Rest in peace, Martin. You lived to a ripe old age of 96 and also did a great job of living, all the while!

Having thoroughly enjoyed (actually a lame word like ‘enjoyment’ does begin to describe the pure exhilaration one feels studying a Martin Gardner or a Douglas Hofstadter or a Richard Feynman) ‘The Annotated Alice’ among many other works of Martin, I am reminded of that 1910  gem ‘Calculus Made Easy‘ of Silvanus Thompson which was later updated and edited by Martin in 1998. ( I just realized that this classic, a real classic at that, has completed hundred years of its existence!)

Now, what is great about the book? One may feel, after all, the phantoms of differential and integral calculus  don’t trouble me anymore – so what’s the point? Besides, I got a good grade in Math 101 (also in Math 505) – I am in a cushy job with an MNC as an ‘engineer extraordinaire’ spending my time (and earning my megabucks) in daylong meetings, boring conference calls & excruciating powerpoint presentations –   and so, why the hell do I even need to go through that drivel again…

I would say that  you have to read this because as the book says (and delivers on the promise, faithfully):

Calculus Made Easy: Being a very-simplest introduction to those beautiful methods of reckoning which are generally called by the terrifying names of the Differential Calculus and Integral Calculus

I would say that the book is indeed beautiful – it restores your faith in the pursuit of knowledge. That Science and Math are not pointless. That they are creative. That they are actually fine arts. That they also happen to have real life applications – gazillions of them!

Now, I ‘studied’ in one of the well-known schools/colleges (which ought to know better, siddhir bhavati karmaja (chapter #4 of the bhagavat gita and all that), but I really wonder as to how this book was not used at all in our undergraduate years! Not even a passing mention of the book was made!! (But I should remember with gratitude that the physics department of my school indeed used the delightful Feynman Lectures on Physics – so it was not all gloom)

I really feel that Mathematics HAS to be approached via ecstatic books such as these.

I chanced upon the Thompson book on calculus when I was trying to desperately to understand & solve some practical problems of heat transfer in the wasted days of my entrepreneurship – and I was thoroughly bowled over by this incredible book. Really. There were also other books (by Piskunov et al) that I really began to appreciate subsequently – but all this was some 10 years after I graduated(!) from my alma mater.

Believe me, this book would make mighty sense to a reasonable 12 year old or even younger ones – if the mind is prepared. Hence, given half-a-chance, I would plan to sneak this in to the erdkinder’s minds. Wish me good luck.

Here’s a scanned picture of a page of the book!

This is the title page of the St Martin Press edition (1998)

The original Macmillan version of the book without Martin’s contribution is available in the public domain. While it is not the same as the later  St Martin’s version – it is STILL a great work.

Enjoy! Math is actually fun! Calculus definitely IS.

Children are like sponges. Their concept of beauty is still unspoilt. Their cognitive capabilities are still good, in spite of TV, pointlessly obscene birthday bashes and Helicopter parents. They normally & instinctively would gravitate towards (and absorb/internalize) fine things in life, given a set of meaningful choices. Faith? Hope?? Let us see…

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Comments

  • bhuvi . m  On June 9, 2010 at 9:10 am

    very useful information ,

    one thing which moved me was “children r like sponges”

    what a beautiful statement .

    thank you.

  • Manish  On July 21, 2010 at 3:10 am

    Reading your blog after a while. ‘Calculus Made Easy’ has been ordered. ‘Annotated Alice’ will be. 🙂
    btw Google books too has a digitized version of the 1914 book.

    Regards,
    Manish

  • Manish  On July 21, 2010 at 3:14 am

    “Your comment is awaiting moderation.”

    Moderation Ramjee?
    What about 1st amendment and freedom of speech? 😀

    (You can delete this one, of course!)

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