Why I Wrote My Math Book

I started writing this story before May 17, the day that Chris Cornell passed away. I struggled finishing it for many days thereafter — temporarily disconnected from myself, especially from a book about “mathematical happiness”. Then I realized that his voice, heart and soul have been tattooed to so many parts of who I am. The book is dedicated to my parents and kids. But, I dedicate this small story about my book to him — for bringing so much happiness into my life.

Thank you, Chris.

One of the reviewers for my book, Gary Antonick, sent me his review of the book back in March. I was humbled and grateful for his kind and supportive words. But, there was some preceding text that made me start to think more about why/how did I write this book — as opposed to the actual content.

The title of this story should suggest — at least I hope so — that the traditional reasons for writing a book will be discounted. I know that Maryann Karinch, my amazing literary agent for almost a decade, and Sarah Jubar, the kickass editor who helped me sculpt this book, will hate me for saying this….but, anything else would be dishonest.

I definitely did not write this book for any reasons that involve quantifying its “success”.

That said, I will passionately promote my book where ever the global winds take me — and, I hope that my publishing company, Rowman and Littlefield, will feel proud of the collaborative efforts to create this book. If my book, in even the smallest ways, can benefit their ability to grow and succeed, I will be happy.

We don’t have to have the same bottom line to reach our goals…

So, reflecting back to Gary Antonick’s curious interrogation to what were the seeds of inspiration, I need to rewind the clock to the previous decade and an essay that drastically — and happily — changed my life forever. This would be the 2002 underground essay by Paul Lockhart, A Mathematician’s Lament.

It spoke to the mathematician in me. It spoke to the teacher in me. It bloody hell spoke to the romantic punk in me. Glen Friedman, easily the most talented photographer of my generation, gave the most human and searing definition of punk that I have ever come across:

“My personal interpretation of what punk is may vary from time to time, but generally it’s an intense obligation one has to themselves regarding honesty and truth to their innermost feelings.

Glen Friedmann

The Idealist. This book sits above the desk where I did most of my writing the past year. I would often flip through the compositions in the book to have my ideas marinate with unassuming, yet gripping, photos of cloud formations, empty streets and disenfranchised skateboarders. Nothing was ever contradictory.

It was all affirming.

Lockhart’s words and Friedman’s pictures became etched into my thoughts. They fueled my desire to write a math book — with an intense obligation to some core thoughts that were still in a larvae stage.

Geminis are notoriously social creatures. We mine our interactions from every nook and cranny of experiences. We desire to know and meet anyone who will dispense anything honest and heartfelt. This appetite to connect is pretty universal, but what I would realize in the final stages of writing, that my book was becoming a mathematical bridge to meet people.

Having an addiction to TED Talks, I randomly — was it really random? — clicked on a talk by Rachel Botsman. She is the Malcolm Gladwell of this generation, documenting with almost academic precision the new, social culture of collaboration and trust. Nothing she has said has had more resonance with me than this:

“25 years ago we met people to do new business. Now we do business to meet new people.”
Rachel Botsman

While I love the idea of meeting people to share math, I wrote this book to share math so I could meet people. The endgame of this book had an endpoint that was social. The deeper the mathematics, then hopefully, the deeper the connections.

What could be deeper than tunneling into the core of mathematics’ true purpose — happiness. Each chapter has a numeric title/mathematical idea that is linked to a universal trait for happiness. I hope I answered at least part of your question, Gary Antonick…:)

I wrote this book for a second reason. And, I will let James Tanton, the mathematician who wrote my foreword, help introduce this reason:

…The world is ready for a global love affair with mathematics. The time is right. And Sunil has written the love letter of our time…
Excerpt from Foreword, James Tanton

As the writing came to an end, I was hoping that people might see this as an unapologetic love letter. And, like all love letters, they are meant for other people. I am going to be 53. We often talk about life insurance, but we never talk about “emotional insurance”. My children are currently 8 and 10. You don’t need to do complicated math to understand that I won’t get to share the 50+ years I have had with my parents…and counting…with my own kids. There are some conversations/ideas/etc. that won’t occur.

This book, hopefully, will take care of them. This book is beyond being dedicated to my kids — it is specifically for them. To always have a memory of their father meandering through the landscape of mathematics/life with necessary candor and reflection — all the while weaving in his favorite movies and musicians.

Hopefully, between these two reasons — one to connect to a present that I want to see and the other a future I will not — you will see this math book in the deepest purpose for mathematics.

It’s a bloody human creation and experience…to be shared…vastly, yet intimately.

Forever.

The story of mathematics is a most compelling yarn. If only I could sit with you on a breezy porch with a glass of wine in hand and confess it all, thinking that we have all the time in the world — when we do not. It’s that internal tension of trying to share every meaningful morsel of math, but in a leisurely and satisfying fashion, that drove me to write this book. It’s akin to drinking a great red — slowly, purposefully, and reflectively. In the 2004 movie Sideways, Miles (Paul Giamatti) is transfixed by the thoughts of Maya (Virginia Madsen) on the life of wine. Sitting on a porch in the Californian night sky, the most romantic elements of wine and honesty are uncorked. I want to tell you about the life of mathematics and hopefully cast a spell of new emotions and ideas. Math’s splendor is vast. You will never know how vast. Neither will I. Perhaps it’s a bit melancholic (or perhaps it’s the wine talking), but I believe the beauty of life lies in the surplus of questions and deficit of time. “
Life’s splendor forever lies in wait about each one of us in all its fullness, but veiled from view, deep down, invisible, far off. It is there, though, not hostile, not reluctant, not deaf. If you summon it by the right word, by its right name, it will come.” — Franz Kafka
It’s time to go deep within ourselves with mathematics as our gentle guide and discover what has always truly been mathematics’ most important contribution to us — happiness. In our sometimes-exhausting search for joy and meaning in life, we somehow neglected to examine the softer yolk inside math’s shell. That beauty and joy of life have always been available. The happiness of mathematics awaits you . . .

Final paragraphs, Introduction(Pi of Life: The Hidden Happiness of Mathematics)

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