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Letters to a Young Mathematician (Art of Mentoring) Hardcover – March 27, 2006


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Product Details

  • Series: Art of Mentoring
  • Hardcover: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Basic Books (March 27, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0465082319
  • ISBN-13: 978-0465082315
  • Product Dimensions: 0.8 x 5.3 x 8.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (24 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,066,328 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. This new entry in the Art of Mentoring series takes the form of letters from a fictitious mathematician to his niece. The letters span a period of 20 years, from the time the niece is thinking about studying mathematics in high school through the early years of her academic career. The format works wonderfully to introduce readers to the basics of the discipline of mathematics while providing a sense of what mathematicians actually do. Throughout, the prolific and talented Stewart (Does God Play Dice?), a British mathematician, entertains while educating. He explains how mathematics is so much more than mere calculations and how it's used in almost every facet of our lives. He also discusses the beauty mathematicians can find in the natural world, demonstrating that a focus on numbers and patterns can enhance rather than detract from an aesthetic appreciation of the environment. Stewart also does a superb job of examining the nature and value of both applied research and pure research, which, he shows, are not nearly as disparate as many think. Although the book must be read by anyone thinking about a career in mathematics, others simply interested in learning about the field and how mathematicians think will find it compelling reading. (Apr. 17)
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Review

"(This) book's greatest value is its insight into what it is to be a mathematician... His enthusiasm is infectious." The Times "The letter in which Stewart tells Meg how to teach undergraduates should be compulsory reading for all lecturers and tutors". Nature" --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

4.3 out of 5 stars
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If you are hoping to become a mathematician this book is very useful, but if you are just hoping to learn some math look elsewhere.
Patrick Regan
As Stewart himself acknowledges in the preface, he was strongly influenced by Godfrey Harold Hardy's classic book "A Mathematician's Apology."
Charles Ashbacher
The book is well written, easy and fun to read, sensible throughout, and prospective mathematicians could only benefit from reading it.
David J. Aldous

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

29 of 31 people found the following review helpful By Polymath-In-Training on March 31, 2006
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
If you have any interest in mathematics at all, you will enjoy this book. Like all of Stewart's books on mathematics, this is well-written, understandable, and interesting. The intended audience would be high-school students who are thinking about majoring in mathematics, college students who are majoring in mathematics, and the rest of us who wish we were smart enough to have majored in mathematics.

Stewart talkes broadly about what the fields of math involve, including some philosophy of mathematics, which is a fascinating field in its own right. He provides advice on what its like to study math, teach math, and above all, DO math.

The only downside of this book is the high price (in the bookstore) for such a small book. PolymathInTraining practiced unaccustomed frugality by reading this entire book in the bookstore for the price of a cup of coffee. But I will purchase it when it is released in paperback.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Publius on August 17, 2006
Format: Hardcover
After reading many of the books in this series, I was drawn to Mr. Stewart's book immediately. As a lawyer, I find that the study of Math can be useful in such obscure topics as the Property or Mergers & Acquisitions. One of the more enjoyable aspects of this book, was its acknowledgement that Math is not for everyone. I, for one, am glad that Stewart writes that one does not back into a career in mathematics, like say someone who backs into a career as a salesman or lawyer. Overall, a nice easy read that is witty and intellectually stimulating at the same time.
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14 of 16 people found the following review helpful By R. Schultz VINE VOICE on June 17, 2007
Format: Paperback
Stewart writes a series of letters to a (probably) fictitious young person to inform each step of that student's journey along the path to becoming a mathematician - starting with grade school questions about "What's math good for?"- and going through advice on how to negotiate office politics in post-doctoral academia.

Each of these chronological letters contain practical advice as well as interesting insights into scholarly subjects, not limited to the field of mathematics.

For example, Stewart presents some of the crispest, most comprehensible definitions I've run across. He defines postmodernism as "the belief that everything is social convention." Other people have spent whole windy pages and chapters trying to define that term, and only succeeded in putting me in a greater fog than before I started.

Stewart defines fractals as patterns that "exist in a fractional number of dimensions." And Godel's theorem gets intelligibly summarized as "the theory that there will be statements that can never be proved either true or false, but that can be used as axioms of equations either way - without creating inconsistency."

Along the way, Stewart renders some wise advice on how to live life in general. He points out how often the theory that people struggle for decades to prove or disprove (like Fermat's Last Theorem) is not important in and of itself. But the process of trying to prove it often opens whole new fields of mathematics. That's another take on the old truism - It's the journey not the destination.

Stewart made only one remark that I didn't think was totally reliable in this neat little book of essays. He says that a primary pleasure to be found in the practice of mathematics is that there is only one correct answer.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Patrick Regan VINE VOICE on September 5, 2006
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Letters to a Young Mathematician portrays the life of a mathematician to a hypothetical young woman pursuing a career as a mathematician. The author draws on his own experience as a mathematician to regal his readers with stories from his life but also some useful insights into just what the life of a mathamatician entails. There is information about the use and misuse of computers in mathematics, a chapter on getting over fear of proofs and many others. I found the authors depiction of the career of a mathematician interesting. This book is very easy to read as it does not include much in the way of math. If you are hoping to become a mathematician this book is very useful, but if you are just hoping to learn some math look elsewhere.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Imad Moustapha on January 9, 2007
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The book is a pleasure to read, the narrative is never dull or technical, and the discourse is of a universal appeal. You don't need to have a keen personal interest in mathematics in order to enjoy reading the book and improve your understanding of the essence of mathematics, the importance of its applications, and its lure.

I strongly recommend this book to whoever is interested in exploring realms of beauty outside the strict circles of fine arts and music.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Joe hand on November 23, 2013
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This book is somewhat entertaining and a quick read, I was able to finish it in one Saturday afternoon sitting. As the first reviewer to give it 3 stars, I hope I can justify my rating.

I am considering graduate school in mathematics and thought this book would help me understand that decision more. Unfortunately, the path of the Author's "young mathematician" is a very specific and very traditional academic path. As such, the author spends more time explaining the specifics of that path and what happens during each stage (lower school, college, phd, professor, and tenured professor) rather than the decisions between each stage.

Before I read the book, I knew I did not want to follow that path. I was hoping for greater insight to mathematical training and thought in other domains, but this book was lacking.

I highly recommend this book for anyone considering a traditional pure mathematical education. However, the book is less useful for someone interested in math but not interested in the same path.
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