Thursday, August 20, 2009

Steven Strogatz

Steven Strogatz is the Jacob Gould Schurman Professor of Applied Mathematics at Cornell University, and is currently Director of the Center for Applied Mathematics.

His books include Sync: The Emerging Science of Spontaneous Order, about which the Nature reviewer wrote: "Strogatz ... is a first-rate storyteller and an even better teacher ... SYNC is a great read."

Strogatz's new book is The Calculus of Friendship: What a Teacher and a Student Learned about Life while Corresponding about Math.

A few days ago I asked him what he was reading. His reply:
At the moment I'm reading Panic In Level 4, the latest page turner by Richard Preston. Ever since The Hot Zone -- the scariest book I've ever read -- I've been a big fan of Preston's. He's one of our best science writers. I love his cinematic style, eye for detail, dry humor and understated language, especially when he discusses something really freaky or macabre.

Freeman Dyson's recent collection of essays, The Scientist as Rebel, has also given me lots of food for thought. His broad view of the scientific enterprise is always as illuminating as it is iconoclastic.

On a recent cross-country plane flight, I tried dipping into Rabbit, Run, by John Updike but couldn't find any empathy for Rabbit and gave up after about 40 pages. Embarrassing, but true.

Instead, I turned to something that I thought might be cheesy fun (which it was) but which also turned out to be surprisingly thoughtful: Pete Sampras's tennis memoir, A Champion's Mind. The story of his childhood and his rise to greatness were unfamiliar to me, and made me admire him and appreciate him in a way I never had before. Like everyone else, I always thought he was a bit of a boring player, but now I understand what was going on in his head during all those Grand Slam matches.
Visit Steven Strogatz's website.

Among the early praise for The Calculus of Friendship:
"As these two men find truer, deeper friendship through an exchange of letters on math, you may be surprised to find yourself, as I was, moved by powerful emotions. I never thought I'd get choked up by an equation--but these guys are plotting out the hardest kind of change to track: the movement from Me to Us."
--Alan Alda

"The Calculus of Friendship is an intriguing journey that casts mathematics in a most unusual light. Through thirty years of correspondence between student and teacher, we enter a private world where the rigors of logic are the last defense against the vagaries of life."
--Brian Greene, author of The Elegant Universe
--Marshal Zeringue