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In the Dark on the Sunny Side: A Memoir of an Out-of-Sight Mathematician

In the Dark on the Sunny Side

By Larry W. Baggett

Print ISBN: 978-0-88385-581-2
Electronic ISBN: 978-1-61444-513-5
190 pp., Hardbound, 2012
List Price: $40.00
Member Price: $30.00
Series: Spectrum

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Misfortune struck one June day in 1944, when a five-year-old boy was forever blinded following an accident he suffered with a paring knife. Few people become internationally recognized research mathematicians and famously successful university professors of that erudite subject, and not surprisingly a minuscule number of those few are visually impaired. In the Dark on the Sunny Side tells the story of one such individual. Larry Baggett was main-streamed in school long before main-streaming was at all common. On almost every occasion he was the first blind person involved in whatever was going on ― the first blind student enrolled in the Orlando Public School System, the first blind student admitted to Davidson College, and the first blind doctoral student in mathematics at the University of Washington.

Besides describing the various successes and failures Baggett experienced living in the dark on the sunny side, he displays in this volume his love of math and music by interspersing short musings on both topics, such as discussing how to figure out how many dominoes are in a set, the intricacies of jazz chord progressions, and the mysterious Comma of Pythagoras.

Table of Contents

1. Uncle Al’s Truss
2. A Quantum Moment
3. Louis and the Problem of Sixty-Three
Sidebar: Counting Dominoes
4. A Cane Mutiny
Sidebar: Counting Dominoes
5. Pinocchio Becomes a Real Boy
6. Aunt Mildred and the Circle of Fifths
Sidebar: The Comma of Pythagoras
7. Scarlet Ribbons
8. Dauntless Courage
Sidebar: Definition of the Limit of a Sequence
9. The Age of Enlightenment
Sidebar: Mathematical Induction
10. Baggett v. Bullitt, and All That Jazz
Sidebar: Designing Chords
Sidebar: More from Pythagoras
11. Publish or Perish, My Best Work
12. The Renaissance
13. “So How’d That All Work Out for You?”
Author’s Notes

Excerpt: Ch. 8 Dauntless Courage (p. 109)

There was never any doubt in my mind that I would go to college, but there had also never been any discussion in my family about what college that might be. Dad had never actually finished college, and Mom attended a small college for girls in Jackson, so there wasn’t anything in our family like what today is called legacy. We certainly had no understanding or knowledge about the so-called “good schools” and definitely no idea of Ivy League schools and the like as possibilities for me.

Some time during my senior year in high school, the subject, of course, was forced on me and my folks. My friends, for the most part, were planning to attend the University of Florida in Gainesville, where I thought I’d have a hard time with its long distances between classroom buildings and its campus crisscrossed with traffic-filled roads. Orlando was still a small town in many ways in 1956, and at that point I still wasn’t a regular cane user and rather timid to venture forth on a walk by myself through a heavily trafficked area.

MAA Review

On a summer day in 1944, five-year-old Larry Baggett used a paring knife to cut a string for a much-needed ammo sack for his slingshot. But, after violating the “Never cut toward yourself” rule, he accidentally sent the point of the knife into his right eye. And over the next few weeks, after multiple treatments and surgeries, he gradually lost sight in both eyes. What becomes of a blind kid in 1940s America? Does he become a jazz musician? A lawyer? A physicist? Continued…


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