Happy New Year! And welcome to my new blog, hosted at my new public-facing website. I decided it was time to build a site that is more public-friendly than my academic site (math.hmc.edu/su).
In the past, I've blogged only rarely, mainly because I'm a perfectionist. I like to choose my words carefully and artfully, and the breezy nature of blogging seems to run counter to this. Blogging feels to me like speaking off the cuff, rather than delivering something fine-tuned and profound. I also don't always feel I have anything interesting to say, and along with that, I fear that I'll say something completely off base. Taken together, this means I wait until I have something I'm really sure I want to say, which means I almost never post anything, and therefore I've only used blogs as a way of posting speeches or other things I'd spent a long time crafting, And now the pressure is on---since I'm surely going to disappoint you, if you have come to expect profound from me every time!
Nevertheless, in the new year, I'm going to try to think of blogging differently, and try to blog more regularly. I'll still try to keep it interesting, but I won't kick myself if it's not the best piece of writing ever. I'm going to assume the best of my readers, that you are going to be gracious and not bite my head off if I say something foolish. Feel free to graciously push back against my ideas, though, in the comments section. I'll try to write a little more often, and not always about my new book (which by the way, I have a new book!), but it might be the case in the short term that I'll have stuff to say about my book that didn't make it into the book. The stories behind the stories, if you will.
I'll mostly blog here at francissu.com/blog unless for some reason it requires LaTeX and I need to use my Wordpress blog (mathyawp.wordpress.com). (This site was created with Wix—easier to use, but still no LaTeX plugin.) I'll mostly post about math or teaching, but sometimes I'll stray off the beaten path and post personal musings. I invite you to subscribe to this blog (use the ‘login/sign-up’ button at the top to sign up, which will also enable you to comment).
With that out of the way, I'll get to the main point of this first post. As you may know, I have some big news:
I have a book coming out next week (January 7)!
My book is titled Mathematics for Human Flourishing. If you liked my speech by the same name or my essay The Lesson of Grace in Teaching, you’ll like the book even more. The book has more themes than the speech did (‘basic human desires’—there were 5 in the speech, but there are 12 in the book), and I had more space to develop the ideas. Plus, I included some puzzles to charm the reader.
While most popular math books try to sell you on math by showing you what cool things it can do, I instead focus on how the practice of math can (or should) shape you as a human being.
In the book, I argue that exploring and experiencing math is central to the notion of a good life, a means of developing virtue, and vital for any society that cares about beauty, truth, justice, freedom and a range of other human desires. I also tell lots of stories, and the book is readable even if you don’t know much math. One central story in the book is my correspondence with a prison inmate named Christopher who taught himself math in prison—he’s added some of his own reflections to the book. Another is religious mystic philosopher Simone Weil, whose brother was a famous mathematician. Her journey in confronting her own feelings of inadequacy also provide a poignant frame to the book.
You might enjoy this early review of the book from Harvard Magazine. Here’s an excerpt:
As the review notes, I’ve made the book for everyone, and accessible to a wide audience, including those who are fearful of math but also those who know a lot of math—like math teachers and mathematicians. I’ve also worked hard to ensure that the voices represented in the book are diverse so that everyone can see themselves in the stories told.
The book launches January 7 (though word on the street is that it's already available on Kindle). Pre-orders are possible at your favorite bookseller or on Amazon. By pre-ordering at your local bookstore, you encourage the bookstore to stock more math titles. You might also ask that your public library order it to ensure it is accessible to all. And please tell your friends!
Here’s wishing you all a meaningful and flourishing 2020.