A Mathematician’s Lament

My next book for my Read Indies month is A Mathematician’s Lament by Paul Lockhart, published by Bellevue Literary Press. A book I was fortunate to stumble upon at a local mini library/book swap.

The author is a research mathematician who began teaching in schools, and his lament centres on how mathematics education is focused on boring, repetitive, technical exercises, rather than seeing mathematics as an art form.

A good rant by someone who is passionate and knowledgable about a topic is usually fun to read, and this short book is no exception. While he discusses the problems in the US education system, it is recognizable to all of us who have wondered how the creative and beautiful subject that is mathematics, can be taught in such a boring way in schools. His solutions may be somewhat extreme, but that makes it a great starting point for discussions. All in all I found it both interesting and thought-provoking.

The publisher also seems promising, focused as they are on books at the intersection between arts and science. Having enjoyed this book I went to their website and immediately added three more titles to my wish-list.

13 thoughts on “A Mathematician’s Lament

  1. Sounds fascinating – those intersections between art and science are interesting, and I know many now promote the STEAM instead of STEM moden, integrating the two disciplines. I know from my own and my children’s experences that the teaching of maths can completely put people off. And if you don’t grasp the maths you’ll never get anywhere with it. A really interesting choice for #ReadIndies!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It sure can, and the most frustrating part is that people believe that it is mathematics that it is boring when too often what is taught in schools is little more than numeracy and to calculate things without understanding them… The author draws a parallel to trying to teach music by only teaching sheet music, leaving all the actual listening and playing until University…

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  2. I love this book so much. I remember that parallel, I am that person who has come to love math from hating it. I agree with him, the way math is taught is a slaughter, the system in general is a huge disaster and it kills true learning. I must revisit this title.

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    1. I did mostly like math in school, but I got more interesting exercises to keep me occupied whenever I finished the ordinary ones quickly enough, so I knew it could be fun.

      If only the educational system was good at creating numeracy it would be one thing, that’s sort of useful even if it isn’t mathematics, but even that seems doubtful.

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  3. Ooo, this sounds great! I have always struggled to find a road to enjoy math (unlike science, which I couldn’t get into as a kid but am now fascinated by and read as many science texts as I can). But I have read a few books – one on the invention of “0” and one on the nature of infinity/infinities – that I LOVED. I often wished I could find more math books that made it feel as interesting to me as those did. It looks like you’ve found a great one for me to read! Thanks for this!

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    1. I have always enjoyed mathematics, I choose it for my minor at university, and might have chosen it for my major if it weren’t for the fact that geology offered fieldwork. So I did read it from the perspective of someone who doesn’t have to be convinced of the beauty of mathematics. I would be interested to hear if it works as well when he isn’t preaching to the choir…

      Otherwise my favourite math-related book is Fermat’s Last Theorem, it is more about mathematicians than it is about mathematics, but I read my first copy to pieces as a teenager.

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      1. I’ve heard of ‘Fermat’s Last Theorem’ but (as will come as no surprise XD) never read it. I’ve begun looking for a copy of ‘A Mathematician’s Lament’ and now I may add that to the list as well. I promise to let you know how it goes for someone where math is FAR outside of their specialty. You have me sincerely excited to read these though which is something I’ve hardly ever said about a math book!

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Isn’t that an amazing thing with blogging, how it allows us to get infected by each other’s enthusiasm? It happens to me all the time when I read your post, that something I have at most a moderate interest in suddenly sounds really exciting when you let me see it through you eyes. I really like that!

        I hope you will enjoy it, mathematics is really a fascinating subject, but that is unfortunately a well kept secret…

        Liked by 1 person

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