Wednesday, August 01, 2018

The Matchless Enthusiasm of Martin Gardner

The competitive struggle for survival with the old Soviet Union made American math and science education a top priority during the post war decades of the 20th century.

Many Baby Boomers (like me) remember with fondness the many fascinating articles published monthly in Scientific American magazine. One of the most interesting features of the magazine was Martin Garder’s column on recreational mathematics, which ran for 25 years.

Among the many necessary qualities of truly great teachers, enthusiasm might be listed first. An instructor’s genuine, overflowing enthusiasm is that which excites students' souls and convinces them that the required academic work and sacrifice will be amply rewarded. The etymology of the word “enthusiasm” (en-theos: literally, "in God") points straight at the Divine, and no one could excite the soul with the beauty of mathematics like Gardner could.

A 1998 article by the master preserves for modern readers the flavor of Gardner’s contagious enthusiasm and gold-medal exposition that so characterized his column, presenting to Gardner fans and neophytes alike the pure noetic joy that accompanies deep dives into the realm of creative mathematics.

Reflecting the timelessness of the subject, the article reads as if it were penned yesterday, fresh and new. It’s not long, and is well worth a bit of your time:

A Quarter-Century of Recreational Mathematics.


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