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A Gardner's Workout: Training the Mind and Entertaining the Spirit

1 rating: 5.0
A book by Martin Gardner

Martin Gardner, as the Master of Mathematical Games and Puzzles, has used his personal exuberance and his fascination with puzzles and magic to entice a wide range of readers into a world of mathematical discovery. As the author of Scientific American's … see full wiki

Tags: Books, Cafe Libri
Author: Martin Gardner
Publisher: AK Peters
1 review about A Gardner's Workout: Training the Mind and...

Gardner at his best, which is saying a lot!

  • Feb 21, 2002
Rating:
+5
It is most certainly not an exaggeration to say that more people have learned more mathematics at the literary knee of Martin Gardner than from anyone else. His columns in Scientific American and subsequent collections in book form have been an inspirational and educational experience for millions. When he "retired" from writing the column, he was succeeded, not replaced.
Since his departure from the duties of writing regularly for Scientific American, he has kept busy writing occasional articles for many different publications. He also stays active in following advances in mathematics and how it is taught in the American society. This book is a collection of many of the mathematical articles as well as some of his comments regarding how mathematics is currently taught.
While reading the book, I was once again placed in awe of his ability to state the mathematical experience in clear terms. One point follows from another with little or no extraneous fluff. There are many writers of technical books who adopt the style of adding in cutesy dialog that supposedly makes it easier to understand. In keeping with his personality, Gardner simply explains it and is done. It is very refreshing to read material in this form.
The topics are generally recreational in nature, although some, particularly those about artificial intelligence (AI) are philosophical. He dismisses the success of the chess playing computers as an insignificant special case. This is true, but he misses what should be the real point of Deep Blue defeating Gary Kasparov. The fact that it took such a computational monstrosity that does only one thing and years of programming to defeat Kasparov shows us how efficient the human brain is and how difficult it is to mimic human intelligence.
The remaining topics, such as magic squares, tiling, dissections and word play all sum up recent advances in the field. My favorite essay is one that details how to program magic tricks on a computer. The strategies used are very simple and show how easy it is to perform tricks that seem impossible.
I thoroughly enjoyed the book and consider it a necessary read for anyone interested in recreational mathematics. An entire generation has arisen since Gardner ceased his regular writings and I encourage all math teachers to examine his essays for material to use in their classrooms. They are the best explanations of mathematics you can find and it has already been proven that they light a fire of enthusiasm for mathematics.

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