Magazine article The Times Higher Education Supplement : THE

Mathematics Is No Mystery

Magazine article The Times Higher Education Supplement : THE

Mathematics Is No Mystery

Article excerpt

Book in style of LA crime fiction offers lessons from a private eye. Matthew Reisz reports

A former maths professor has turned detective to demonstrate just how useful - and how entertaining - his subject can be.

James Stein, emeritus professor of mathematics at California State University, Long Beach, has long enjoyed the way that "mathematics has managed to infiltrate itself into science fiction". Two of his favourite stories involve a mathematician who "summons Lucifer and bets his soul that the Devil can't come up with a proof of Fermat's Last Theorem in 24 hours" and "the unexpected consequences when the city of Boston constructs a subway system with bizarre topological properties".

This led him to an idea of using detective fiction for "the most student-friendly math text ever written", aimed at those taking introductory maths for liberal arts courses common in US universities.

He suspects that L.A. Math: Romance, Crime, and Mathematics in the City of Angels is the first "collection of stories, with a continuing set of characters, in which mathematics plays an important role".

The title refers to both liberal arts and Los Angeles, he explains in the preface, because "there's still a mystique and a fascination to L.A. that Wichita, Kansas, and Peoria, Illinois, simply don't have". Putting it in a title, therefore, "virtually guarantee[s] people will be interested - I hope, even if the next word is 'Math'". …

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