Martin Gardner wrote the Mathematical Games column for Scientific American for twenty-five years and published more than seventy books on topics as diverse as magic, philosophy, religion, pseudoscience, and Alice in Wonderland.
His informal, recreational approach to mathematics delighted countless readers and inspired many to pursue careers in mathematics and the sciences. Gardner's illuminating autobiography is a disarmingly candid self-portrait of the man evolutionary theorist Stephen Jay Gould called our "single brightest beacon" for the defense of rationality and good science against mysticism and anti-intellectualism.
Gardner takes readers from his childhood in Oklahoma to his college days at the University of Chicago, his service in the navy, and his varied and wide-ranging professional pursuits. Before becoming a columnist for Scientific American, he was a caseworker in Chicago during the Great Depression, a reporter for the Tulsa Tribune, an editor for Humpty Dumpty, and a short-story writer for Esquire, among other jobs.
Gardner shares colorful anecdotes about the many fascinating people he met and mentored, and voices strong opinions on the subjects that matter to him most, from his love of mathematics to his uncompromising stance against pseudoscience. For Gardner, our mathematically structured universe is undiluted hocus-pocus - a marvelous enigma, in other words. Undiluted Hocus-PocusM offers a rare, intimate look at Gardner's life and work, and the experiences that shaped both.
©2013 James Gardner as Managing General Partner, Martin Gardnew Literary Interests, GP (P)2013 Audible Inc.
Faced with mindless duty, when an audio book player slips into a rear pocket and mini buds pop into ears, old is made new again.
To the general public, Martin Gardner is not a household name. “Undiluted Hocus Pocus” is a brief biography of Gardner who is known by a wide variety of famous and obscure artists, mathematicians, magicians, puzzle makers, and scientists. Unless one subscribes to “Scientific American”, practices magic, or likes to make or solve puzzles, he/she will likely not have heard of Martin Gardner. He died in 2010 at the age of 95.
“Undiluted Hocus-Pocus” is not a great biography but it is an introduction to a fascinating man who grew up in Oklahoma, graduated from the University of Chicago (with a degree in Philosophy), entered the Navy as an enlisted man during WWII, and made a living as an author. He wrote magazine articles for children’s magazines in his early career. Later, Gardner surprisingly wrote about science, mathematics, magic, and puzzles. The surprise is because Gardner never formally studied mathematics or science.
Gardner believes in evolution and criticizes belief in Bible’ truth. Though not an adherent of Thomas Nagel’s atheism, Gardner believes the essence of humanness is consciousness; i.e. Nagel’s philosophical view of human life. Both Nagel and Gardner, according to Gardner’s biography, belong to what is called a mysterian philosophy which believes that the prime creator of life is, and will always be, beyond the comprehension of human consciousness. Gardner believes in “God” in the only way he and Nagel believe science and human consciousness allow; i.e. by a leap of faith.
If a listener has never heard of Martin Gardner, “Undiluted Hocus-Pocus” is a worthy introduction but more like a memoir than a biography.
Martin Gardner was my greatest intellectual hero as I grew up, and I spent endless hours in the library reading his Scientific American column. He also wrote some of my favorite science books, such as Relativity for the Million, and The Ambidextrous Universe. His Fads and Fallacies in the Name of Science was my introduction to skepticism.
Accordingly, I was thrilled to find this well written biography of him. I now feel I understand his intellectual development, and what made him tick. I was especially interested to hear about his belief in god, which is most unusual for someone with his level of skepticism.
My only regret was that the book was not longer, as I would have enjoyed hearing more about his books and Scientific American articles, especially the development of his Dr. Matrix character which I found so fascinating.
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