My favorite book title

Here’s my favorite book title, ever. I always loved the power of the academic colon.


For more information on the author, Wikipedia has some details. (As an aside, if I had stayed in grad school, Silvanus was going to make an appearance in my dissertation.)

But the title is just the tip of the super awesome iceberg. You can read it on Scribd, but some of my favorite part so far is:

Prologue: Considering how many fools can calculate, it is surprising that it should be thought either a difficult or tedious task for any other fool to learn how to master the same tricks. Some calculus-tricks are quite easy. Some are enormously difficult. The fools who write the textbooks of advanced mathematics–and they are mostly clever fools–seldom take the trouble to show you how easy the calculations are. On the contrary, they seem to desire to impress you with their tremendous cleverness by going about it in the most difficult way.

And the first chapter is just two pages. Awesome.


This struck me especially deeply because… well, see some twitter posts I made earlier this week (read it from the bottom upwards):


After this brief burst of histrionics, I actually did decide that I wanted to change things a lot. In a follow up fit, I whipped up an email to my department head, pretty much begging that she would support my plea for a grant to work on revamping the curriculum in the summer.


(Turns out that revamping the calculus curriculum isn’t an immediate priority, sigh, so I will probably not get it.)

In any case, now that you’ve gone through this stream of consciousness, look back at my favorite book title and see how it all comes full circle.



  1. Have I recommended “Lockhart’s Lament” to you yet? He says a lot of stuff that jives with what you’re saying here… particularly about math education not needing to be reformed so much as “scrapped”.

    Click to access LockhartsLament.pdf

    It’s a little over-the-top, but too much of it is awesome to disregard it altogether. I loved it. He just turned it into a small paperback as well, titled “A Mathematician’s Lament”. Anyway, I’d be very curious as to your “review” of the essay.

  2. He’s making a point, but the “sum” and “little bit” parts are quite useful and genuinely help student understanding. A lot.


  3. my dad bought me calculus made easy when i was in high school and i’ve re-purchased it a dozen times since then as i give them away to students and friends. the chapter where he moves up the ladder through position, velocity, acceleration is good, and the treatment of the chain rule is also pretty good.

  4. First point of order: I just stumbled across this book this week and fell in love with it. I hadn’t actually seen it before. I read the first… um… I don’t know… fourth of the book and decided it was great. Especially for me to get a different perspective on calculus, instead of the traditional textbook. It seriously works on building understanding, instead of algebraic manipulation of symbols. I might use parts of this book coupled with Rogawski next year.

    @Matt: I actually have read LL, and I had the exact same reaction as you. But I haven’t read it in a long while. I’ll put it on my to-do list — review the essay. What is crazy is I think he teaches at a school about 2 minutes from my school. I told my new dept. chair that we should invite him to a department meeting for a discussion.

    @Henry: I think I might try to find a few copies and have the dept buy them to give to students who win math awards as presents. In addition to D’Arcy Thompsons’s beautifully written _On Growth and Form_, that is.

  5. Based on you grant email, you must not use graphing calculators or CAS software in your classes now. That’s a pretty interesting state of affairs, but not entirely surprising. It takes time to get to them properly intertwined in the curriculum. How would you go about implementing CAS calculators – perhaps the TI nSpire – into your plan, if such can be answered?

    Meanwhile everything on you blog is so inspiring to me, a former teacher who became to entralled with computers that I had to go into electrical engineering. Now, I can’t even think about how to begin, since I did not have any teacher credentials back then – I just had the hardcore subjects but could just naturally teach and was very successful. Problem is, around here, there are 5 applicants for every openning. Like most jobs, there simply is an oversupply of hot bodies willing to undergo applicant abuse to obtain poverty level wages and 8-0 hour work weeks. Am I crazy??

  6. @Will: All my students have TI-83/84s. I use them, but not often. I really am trying to use this calculus class as a way for my students to have one last “algebra boot camp” before college. However, what’s clear is that it’s not working as designed. So I’m going to mix it up. And I’m going to have them use the calculator more to “get” concepts.

    I’m not exactly sure, but I think you are thinking about going into teaching now. If you don’t have your credentials, you can go the route of a private/independent school (that’s where I am, even though I have credentials). And if you’re looking for a math teacher position, a lot of independent schools are generally desperate for people who know the subject matter and can teach it

    As if you would be crazy to become a math teacher, yes. I think craziness is a necessity to be good at the job!

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