Image: Bruce Torrence (2010)
"More people have probably learned more good mathematical ideas from Gardner than from any other person in the history of the world"—Donald Knuth
Martin often related how he had never taken calculus or any college level mathematics course, or indeed any mathematics after leaving high school in 1932. Yet, in the 21st century, in a review of one of his books in the Journal of Recreational Mathematics, Charles Aschbacher remarked that "Gardner will go down in history as one of the most significant mathematicians of all time." The extent of his influence in mathematics can be judged by the comments of those he influenced.
How did that happen? It turns out that he'd written about mathematics, on and off, for over six decades, along the way famously turning "dozens of innocent youngsters into math professors and thousands of math professors into innocent youngsters," in the words of Persi Diaconis. ("Dozens" is clearly a severe underestimate here.) Ron Graham concurs, "There is absolutely no question that he, more than anyone else in the world, was responsible for turning people of all ages on to the pleasures of mathematical recreations. Many have tried to emulate him–nobody has succeeded." Richard Guy is even more succinct, "He brought more mathematics to more millions than anyone else."
It would be natural, given his stature in the world of mathematics, to assume that Martin was a very active mathematician by trade, accumulating degrees in the usual way and teaching college students by day, as well as giving numerous high profile lectures around the country each year, and regularly publishing research papers. Yet the reality is startlingly different. He had just one university degree, but it was in philosophy. He was an amazing teacher, but all of his teaching was done via the pen and typewriter. He once revealed that he never gave a lecture in his life, and claimed that he wouldn't know how to. He was in his 75th year when he first published in a refereed mathematics journal.
Copyright © 2014 Gathering 4 Gardner, Inc. (G4G) All Rights Reserved.