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Coffee, Love and Matrix Algebra Paperback – July 28, 2014
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The Amazon Book Review
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From the Inside Flap
From the Back Cover
Praise for Coffee, Love and Matrix Algebra:
- "I laughed, and then wondered how deep in the math ed world one has to be to 'get it'." - Sue van Hattum, Contra Costa College, San Pablo, CA
- "I really enjoyed this! .... The style reminds me of David Lodge, only he wouldn't have math professors as the subjects. Keep 'em coming!" - Adam Glesser, Assistant Professor of Mathematics, Suffolk University, Boston.
- "Can't stop reading. Addictive." - dimensionsinmathematics.com
- "I just finished chapter 4 -- what a delight waking up to a new chapter and now having a second new chapter (5). The problem is . . . chapter 4 left me with a hankering for a blueberry muffin! Thanks so much for these, I've been deeply enjoying them." - Sigal Gottlieb, Professor of Mathematics, University of Massachusetts Dartmouth
- "What a fine story. Read at Dunkin-Donuts, with coffee latte and a blueberry muffin." - Alexander Bogomolny, Cut-The-Knot.org
- "Thanks! ... Looks like you've captured the familiar tensions in academia ." - Nalini Joshi, Professor of Mathematics, University of Sydney, Australia, former President of the Australian Mathematical Society, Fellow of the Australian Academy of Sciences.
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Top customer reviews
The story is about a year long episode in a life of a college math department. Any one, I believe, who ever held a position in an academic department would easily identify the traits of Gary's protagonists as shared by some of their colleagues. The characters were authentic, evolution of events realistic; it took me a while to realize that the book was entirely a work of fiction.
Naturally, while there are similarities, not all math departments are the same; Gary's no different in this respect. It is painted with its own problems and peculiarities. Although a mathematics professor, Gary navigates his story with the skill of a professional writer. He narrates his story that takes several imaginative turns with confidence of a participant and kind humor of life's keen observer. That's a great story, masterfully and engagingly told. Read and enjoy.
Probably the most irritating thing about the book is its lack of depth. The book doesn't wrestle with any serious questions. There is no philosophy in these pages beyond what you would find in any generic book about management. The characters seem to be more concerned with questions like "Do people like me?" and "Is my book popular?" instead of "Why is Matrix Algebra important?" or "Should we pursue mathematical research that has no practical application?". In other words this fictional Mathematics department completely ignores the issues one would hope mathematicians would consider. The characters themselves feel like they are just different aspects of one personality, to wit, an American middle aged - maybe older - man in the economic middle class. Even the female characters feel like they were written by a man. In this book people are most concerned with drinking fine wine, fine coffee, fine tea, fine foods, fine views, etc. I was hoping for something more than advice on how to live the fine life.
The book reads like any of a dozen or so other books on how to improve one's management skills. But even here the advice is suspect. For example it promotes several practices based on "energy flow" supposedly originating from tai chi teachings of some kind. Also the characters each spend a great deal of energy avoiding confrontation - even the two characters who are supposed to be especially frank! To my mind a confrontation free environment is a symptom of a problem with management style. Too much confrontation is bad; too little confrontation is also bad. I fear many aspiring young mathematicians will read this book and decide to stay far away from the world of academia for fear of ending up in a department like the one described in this book.
My final complaint is that the author seems to be ignorant of much of what has been happening in the technical world over the last ten years. For example, he mentions Drop Box but doesn't even acknowledge that there are many such services available (Google Drive and OneDrive being two big ones) as well as other alternatives (like WebDAV, FTP, GitHub, BaseCamp, etc.). As another example he spends a great deal of time extolling how Wolfram's new CDF format will revolutionize learning without giving even a nod to the many open source tools like GeoGebra, Sage, Python notebooks, etc. that have been providing interactive mathematical environments for years. (He gives the R programming environment a one-line mention even though I've personally seen many people learn statistics through R and not once have I seen someone learn statistics through Mathematica.) Why promote a proprietary solution at all? Math departments at universities should be generating new open source software projects not telling people that they need to buy a $2,000 piece of software before they can practice mathematics themselves. Maybe Wolfram's CDF really is revolutionary but the book would have been much more interesting if it had at least acknowledged and discussed open alternatives rather than just asserting that CDF was the wave of the future.
If you are like me you will eagerly devour the first 20 chapters (out of 77) waiting for the twist that will propel these characters into a deep and interesting story. The twist never comes. The last 20 chapters were a real chore but I forced myself to plow through to the end. I didn't think it would be fair to comment about the book until I had read all of it.
I cannot recommend this book. There are too many other books with more interesting characters, better plots and better math.
As one of the general readers and an acquaintance of the author, I was moved by the story running through the book, as an account of people who lived through the horrors of that time and of some who did not. The support of around 100 Jewish children by Belgians, Swiss, and some residents of Vichy France. The accounts of day to day activities in a setting of rural isolation and the travels to get there are unlike the narrow view of holocaust victims and survivors that many of have. The narrative has frequent references by name and personality of many of the children so that one may relate to them in different parts of the book. Walter's own history is mutedly traced with that of the others. The endpapers amplify on the individuals and on related books and references. My only criticism of the book is that the detail about individuals is so great that it may weigh on the story and broader significance
Anyone who knew Walter even in passing will mourn his loss after recovering from the shock of learning that this dynamic and polite man is no longer with us. This book will be a lasting testimony to him, to his wife and family, and to all of the children of the title.