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The Calculus of Friendship Earns an A

This week's book has raised much interest. I heard about it...read about it...read excerpts...and finally bought the book. Now, I am comfortable recommending it to the right audience.

Steven Strogatz's The Calculus of Friendship: What a Teacher and a Student Learned about Life While Corresponding about Math raises interest with its title. How can one learn about life while corresponding about mathematics? And, what does "calculus of friendship" even mean?

At age 15, the author studied calculus under Don Joffray, his high school math teacher. Subsequent to that course, the two corrresponded for thirty years. Many changes occurred...Strogatz became a successful math professor at Cornell University, but experienced death and a painful marriage. In contrast, Joffray passed from his prime to retirement, while experiencing the pain of losing a son. The one thing that did not change was their "shared love of calculus."

The book is built from copies of their letters, filled with mathematics and personal commentary. And, as if bearing double meanings, the Chapter headings seem focused on calculus. Some examples:

  • Continuity
  • Irrationality
  • The Monk and the Mountain
  • Randomness
  • Infinity and Limits
  • Chaos
  • the Path of Quickest Descent
  • Bifurcation
  • Hero's Formulua
Even if you do not know calculus, you will understand much of the book. And, the author makes things more understandable via some clever problems, metaphors, images, and personal anecdotes.

To anyone who has been or is a teacher (or a mentor), the book should hit home in a warm manner, understanding the reward of a caring student. And, students reading the book, search out (reach out?) for a teacher such as Mr. Joffray...but they are quite rare.

If you are not sure about the book, consider the video The Calculus of Frienship as recommended. It should help you decide. Plus, you can learn alot...about mathematics and...

Finally, it is important to note that I have recommended the work of Steven Strogatz before, via his weekly "Math Blog" for the New York Times. If you have not been reading his interesting comments regulaerly, now also is a good time to catch up on that end as well.