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Moi Jan04

Some books recently read

I've been reading a lot of non-fiction lately. In no particular order:

Recountings - Conversations with MIT Mathematicians by Joel Segal. I read about it in the MIT Alum magazine - Technology Review which is a pretty interesting magazine. It has long interviews with many Math profs, some of whom were from my time. Some of the interviews are about the evolution of math and I must say I barely know what they are talking about these days having forgotten just about everything I used to know. But it was interesting to hear about these people from my past and their comments about other ones. I quote an amusing thing from Art Mattuck who was my Number Theory instructor.
I got to Princeton in September '51, Those were the day when you got a PhD in three years, not seven. The ones who took longer were the square-dancers. The Princeton Class was filled with all the Putnam Teams from Harvard and Toronto - those were the schools that regularly won the inter-collegiate Putnam math exam. They had taken mostly graduate courses while undergraduates. When they got to Princeton, they said, "Hey, I know all this," and they square-danced. But I was scared, like many of the other first-year graduate students, so we worked! When I left, they were still square-dancing. It took some of them a long time to get a PhD. They were brilliant, but somehow they couldn't work.
It is a good thing I wasn't into Contra Dancing when I was a student.

The Discovery of France - A Historical Geography from the Revolution to the First World War by Graham Robb. It is interesting to reflect on how fragmented France was in the early 19th century and how most people in the villages spoke a local patois - there were hundreds of these, never herd of Paris and didn't speak French. Of course when you think about it without canals, railroads, roads which were the communications infrastructure it is kind of obvious that it would be that way. It is still true today that in some of these villages the local patois is spoken fairly regularly.

The Invisible Constitution by Laurence Tribe. Tribe goes through great lengths to show how the constitution as written is too incomplete with various ambiguities and conflicts and there must also be an invisible constitution that supplies background, meaning, and interpretation and is used by Supreme Court Justices when creating opinions. I must admit that much of it went over my head - partially because I read it late at night as bed-time reading - but it was quite interesting.

Brothers: 26 stories of love and rivalry edited by Andrew Blauner. There were some pretty fascinating stories - many by or about well known people - mostly about tough relationships. One was by two sons of John Cheever, another by David Kaczynski the brother of Ted. This was a case of noticing a write-up in the Sunday Globe and quickly putting in a reserve request at the Library.

Born to play: my life in baseball by Dustin Pedroia with Edward Delaney. Pedroia is the 2nd baseman for the Red Sox. He has a very atypical body type for a baseball player since he is is 5' 7" where most players are over 6 feet. His whole experience as an athlete from when he was a little kid was people telling him he was too small and couldn't play. He liked the challenge and with a good-natured chip on his shoulder succeeded. He is an aggressive player and has made up for his lack of size with temperament and drive. According to things I've read and heard in the press (as well as what he wrote (the book has sections by other people) he is well liked and very supportive of his teammates and the team concept. When offered a lucrative contract and advised that he could more money he said it was more than enough (unlike I believe it was Ty Law, a football player who scorned his 50 mill contract saying something like "I gotta eat"). He was American League Rookie of the Year in 2007 and Most Valuable Player in 2008.


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