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Lion Hunting and Other Mathematical Pursuits: A Collection of Mathematics, Verse, and Stories by the Late Ralph P. Boas, Jr

1 rating: 3.0
A book by Ralph P. Boas Jr

'I highly recommend Lion Hunting and Other Mathematical Pursuits to high school mathematics clubs, mathematics teachers of all levels, and anyone interested in mathematics. Perhaps the most important feature of this book is how it subtly makes the reader … see full wiki

Tags: Books, Cafe Libri
Author: Ralph P. Boas Jr
Publisher: The Mathematical Association of America
1 review about Lion Hunting and Other Mathematical Pursuits:...

It shows Boas as a sprite

  • Jan 2, 2002
As a collection of diverse persons, mathematicians suffer from more negative stereotypes than almost any other group. This is unfortunate, discouraging and most often wrong. Widely characterized as lacking in humor, abstract and considered to be brilliant, eccentric imbeciles by much of the public, mathematicians rarely fit that description. Of course, branding a group with a stereotype is often a mask for insecurities. Ralph P. Boas Jr. is a fascinating counterexample to most of these inaccurate assumptions. Filled with humor, verse and mathematics, his optimism and love of life are captured just like the lions so prominently featured in the book.
So, how does an unarmed person capture a lion using only the weapons of mathematical thought? There are more ways than you would think. Over thirty different "proven" methods are given. My favorite is: "The lion is big game, hence certainly a game. There exists an optimal strategy. Follow it." It seems that every area of mathematics can be used to construct a way to capture a lion. Of course, some are more efficient than others.
The verse varies from limericks to some that were seeded by material from Shakespeare. All are quite good, although it is necessary to read some of them twice in order to capture the intended meaning. Most mathematicians have heard of Nicolas Bourbaki, the mathematical polyglot who is in fact a pseudonym for a collection of French mathematicians. When it came time to publish the first material on the mathematics of lion hunting, Boas and his colleagues chose the pseudonym, Hector Petard, from the Shakespearean line, '"the engineer, hoist with his own petard"; Hamlet Act III, Scene IV. To complete the circle, Boas and friends also "arranged" for a wedding between Betti Bourbaki and H. Petard and duly announced the upcoming event.
Another main section of the book consists of reminiscences by Boas and those who knew him best. As a mathematical man of mischief and an educator, he had few equals. Several short papers describing some of his basic ideas for education are also included. These ideas share one common trait. Simple to understand and execute. No fancy or complex methods, just fundamental strategies that make mathematics more understandable.
The final part of the book consists of short anecdotes about his experiences in mathematics. Some are about fellow mathematicians, others about students and the rest about whatever seemed to happen during his eventful life. At times amusing, other times profound, but at all times interesting, they are simple notes describing how the mathematical world works.
Despite common misconceptions, there are some mathematicians who contain a bit of the sprite and Ralph P. Boas J r. was such a person. That impishness is captured in this book, which is reason enough to read it.

Published in Smarandache Notions Journal, reprinted with permission.

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