Steven G. Krantz,, Ph.D., professor of mathematics at Washington University in St. Louis, illuminates mathematicians' very human brilliance in his book, Mathematical Apocrypha Redux, his sequel to his successful, original Mathematical Apocrypha, published in 2002, both by the Mathematical Association of America.
The book is a collection of anecdotes about famous mathematicians and their frivolity, wisdom and situations, revealing more vulnerable, human versions of the remote and often eccentric savants.
Krantz, who, still in mid-career, has published a remarkable 53 books, once wrote: "Being a mathematician is a bit like being a manic depressive: you spend your life alternating between giddy elation and black despair," lives a very normal, public life. His office is filled with toys and gadgets; his head with stories and jokes – and math. He's approachable , engaging, funny and a widely recognized mathematical whiz himself.
"The truth is, there isn't anybody who can productively think about mathematics more than four or five hours a day," Krantz says. "You just can't do it. So I spend the rest of the day writing books. Other people spend the rest of the day banging their head against a wall. I decided I'd rather do something productive with my time."
Krantz received his bachelor's degree in mathematics in 1971 from the University of California, Santa Cruz before he could legally drink a beer. In 1974, at age 23, he was awarded his Ph.D. in mathematics from Princeton University. That same year he joined the faculty of UCLA as an assistant professor, moving to Pennsylvania State University as associate professor in 1981. He joined the Washington University faculty as professor of mathematics in 1986.
Many have recognized his writing prowess : Krantz has received the coveted Chauvenet Prize of the Mathematics Association of America (MAA) in 1992 for expository writing, and the Beckenbach Prize of the MAA in 1994 for his book, Complex Analysis: The Geometric Viewpoint, published in 1992. So far, Mathematical Apocrypha Redux has been very well received.
A Krantz sampling
In the book, Krantz offers insight into the lives of many dozens of mathematicians, while minimizing the mathematical lexicon. "I really try to make the stories accessible to a broad audience," he says.
And what's more accessible than stories? In Krantz 's own words, here is a sampling of the hundreds of anecdotes:
Apocrypha, the sequel
Unlike his first book, which was written entirely from his own experience at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, N.J. (home to Einstein and to many of the world's famous intellectuals ), these stories were assembled after many hours of diligent research.
"I put every story I knew in the first book, and I thought, what am I going to do with a second book? " Krantz says. "Well, I had to do a lot of research, is what I had to do. So I worked like a dog to assemble good stories for the second book. But the good news is, everybody agrees the second book is much better than the first book."
Of his writing regiment, Krantz says that while he might spend three to four hours writing on a teaching day, he'll spend up to eight to ten hours writing when he has the time.
"I'm lucky in that I don't have problems with carpel tunnel, I don't have problems with my back, I don't have headaches, so I can just work," he says.
His writing affects people worldwide: other professors read excerpts from his book of funny anecdotes to their rapt college kids. He's authored a how-to book for young people hoping to become mathematicians
"This is all the stuff I wish somebody had told me 30 years ago," he says, of that work.
Krantz's writing life has brought him into contact with legions of people from all over. One, having read his quote about the ups and downs of being a mathematician in her mathematics textbook, was even inspired to write his biography. That was even before she knew that Krantz published a whopping 12 books last year.
Another contacted him from prison.
"An inmate at Huntsville Penitentiary in Texas – arguably the worst prison in the country – contacted me because he was working his way through my real analysis book and he had some questions," Krantz recalled. ". This guy turned out to be quite bright and we conducted considerable correspondence over quite a long period of time. I was quite impressed by the progress he made. He is now out and trying to re-establish himself in the computer business."
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Feb 2009
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