The Calculus of Friendship: What a Teacher and a Student Learned about Life While Corresponding about Math

The Calculus of Friendship: What a Teacher and a Student Learned about Life While Corresponding about Math

The Calculus of Friendship: What a Teacher and a Student Learned about Life While Corresponding about Math

The Calculus of Friendship: What a Teacher and a Student Learned about Life While Corresponding about Math

Synopsis


The Calculus of Friendship is the story of an extraordinary connection between a teacher and a student, as chronicled through more than thirty years of letters between them. What makes their relationship unique is that it is based almost entirely on a shared love of calculus. For them, calculus is more than a branch of mathematics; it is a game they love playing together, a constant when all else is in flux. The teacher goes from the prime of his career to retirement, competes in whitewater kayaking at the international level, and loses a son. The student matures from high school math whiz to Ivy League professor, suffers the sudden death of a parent, and blunders into a marriage destined to fail. Yet through it all they take refuge in the haven of calculus--until a day comes when calculus is no longer enough.


Like calculus itself, The Calculus of Friendship is an exploration of change. It's about the transformation that takes place in a student's heart, as he and his teacher reverse roles, as they age, as they are buffeted by life itself. Written by a renowned teacher and communicator of mathematics, The Calculus of Friendship is warm, intimate, and deeply moving. The most inspiring ideas of calculus, differential equations, and chaos theory are explained through metaphors, images, and anecdotes in a way that all readers will find beautiful, and even poignant. Math enthusiasts, from high school students to professionals, will delight in the offbeat problems and lucid explanations in the letters.


For anyone whose life has been changed by a mentor, The Calculus of Friendship will be an unforgettable journey.

Excerpt

For the past thirty years I've been corresponding with my high school calculus teacher, Mr. Don Joffray. During that time, he went from the prime of his career to retirement, competed in whitewater kayak at the international level, and lost a son. I matured from teenage math geek to Ivy League professor, suffered the sudden death of a parent, and blundered into a marriage destined to fail.

What's remarkable is not that any of this took place— such ups and downs are to be expected in three decades of life—but rather that so little of it is discussed in the letters. Instead, our correspondence, and our friendship itself, is based almost entirely on a shared love of calculus.

It never occurred to me how peculiar this is until Carole (I'm happily remarried now) teased me about it. “You've been writing to him for thirty years? You must know everything about each other.” Not really, I said. We just write about math problems. “That is such a guy thing,” she said, shaking her head.

Her question got me thinking. What did I really know about my teacher? Why had so much gone undiscussed between us? On the other hand, we both enjoyed our correspondence the way it was, so was there any problem here?

Questions like these have kept nagging at me. I'm not sure how to go about answering them or if I should even try. All the while, I find myself looking for clues in a green . . .

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