James D. Stein's new book is L.A. Math: Romance, Crime, and Mathematics in the City of Angels.
From the author's Q & A with Debra Liese at the Princeton University Press Blog:
L.A. Math is definitely an unusual book. Brian Clegg described it by saying “It’s as if Ellery Queen, with the help of P. G. Wodehouse, spiced up a collection of detective tales with a generous handful of practical mathematics.” How did you happen to write it?Learn more about L.A. Math at the Princeton University Press website.
JS: I absolutely loved it when he described it that way, because I was brought up on Ellery Queen. For younger readers, Ellery Queen was one of the greatest literary detectives of the first half of the twentieth century, specializing in classic Sherlock Holmes type cases. The Ellery Queen stories were written by the team of Manfred Dannay and Frederick Lee — and my mother actually dated one of them!
The two other mystery writers who influenced me were Agatha Christie and Rex Stout. Rex Stout wrote a series featuring Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin; the books are presumably written by Archie Goodwin describing their cases, so I used that as the model for Freddy Carmichael. The relationship between Archie and Nero also served, somewhat, as a parallel for the relationship between Freddy and Pete. Nero and Pete both have addictions — Nero wants to spend his time eating elaborate cuisine and raising orchids, and Pete wants to spend his time watching and betting on sports. It’s up to Archie and Freddy to prod them into taking cases.
How does Agatha Christie enter the picture?
JS: I’d taught liberal arts mathematics — math for poets — maybe ten times with temporary success but no retention. Students would learn what was necessary to pass the course, and a year later they’d forgotten all of it. That’s not surprising, because the typical liberal arts math course has no context that’s relevant for them. They’re not math-oriented. I know I had several history courses discussing the Battle of Azincourt, but I don’t remember anything about it because it has no context for me.
Agatha Christie’s best-known detective is Hercule Poirot, and one day I was in a library reading...[read on]
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