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Mathematical Reminiscences

Howard Eves
Mathematical Association of America
Publication Date: 
Number of Pages: 
[Reviewed by
Michael Berg
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What a marvelous book! The only bad thing to say about it is that you can read it in a sitting or two, e.g. in a couple of eves. (My apologies to the author for such a low pun. But in light of the tenor of many of the vignettes in the book, he won't mind at all...) In any case, having finished the book, one is (or at least I am) left wanting more, as though after a splendid course of hors d'oeuvres there is no main course being served. But this is no reflection on what Eves has done in this book: he simply offers us a wonderful series of snapshots; they are not meant to lead to anything else. These are the reminiscences of a happy man, a mathematician, and it is great fun for us to have him share them with us.

This little book consists of some 50 tales, making for an average of between 3 and 4 pages per tale. They're generally very charming and humorous, and occasionally quite poignant. It is hard not to be left with a few keen favorites. I particularly enjoyed the "gossip" about titans Eves knew personally. My personal choices are the stories that have to do with G. H. Hardy and with Albert Einstein. To wit: Eves tells the tale of Hardy's white scarf — evidently quite a grimy and tattered object, beloved by its owner — which Eves manages to acquire through some benevolent skullduggery and a very clever substitution. And then there is the story of how Eves ended up in the Princeton infirmary as a result of trying to test the temperature of tea in the same way Hardy did. As for Einstein, there is the episode of the great man's lock of hair, to name one, and, to name another, the instructive parable of the little aster, capped by Einstein's pithy phrase, "Bloom where you are planted." Maurice Frechet makes an appearance, as does Florian Cajori, as does Julian Coolidge. And many others, too, most emphatically Norbert Wiener. (And yes, the Wiener story lives up to expectations!)

There are also a large number of musings on geometry (love poems really), reminiscences of a long career as editor of the Elementary Problems section of the Monthly, as Associate Editor of the Fibonacci Quarterly and other journals. There are lots of tales of teaching adventures, and on and on. It's all fun.

Many of us, myself included, first encountered Eves through his book on the history of mathematics, or perhaps through his book on complex variables. In this collection of reminiscences we get to know him better, so to speak, and get to discover a good deal more about this witty and charming author. What comes through most of all is his abiding love for his subject, his professionalism, and his healthy sense of fun (if not mischief). So I recommend the book enthusiastically. Buy it. Read it. You'll enjoy it.

 Michael Berg ([email protected]) is professor of mathematics at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, CA. His research interests are algebraic number theory and non-archimedian Fourier analysis.

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