David Lindsay Roberts, "Republic of Numbers: Unexpected Stories of Mathematical Americans through History" (Johns Hopkins UP, 2019)
The institutional history of mathematics in the United States comprises several entangled traditions—military, civil, academic, industrial—each of which merits its own treatment. David Lindsay Roberts, adjunct professor of mathematics at Prince George's Community College, takes a very different approach. His unique book, Republic of Numbers: Unexpected Stories of Mathematical Americans through History(Johns Hopkins University Press, 2019), anchors 20 biographical chapters to a decadal series of events, whose mathematical significance could not often have been anticipated. These short biographies range from the inauguration of military and civil engineering (Sylvanus Thayer) and the textbook industry (Catharine Beecher and Joseph Ray) to the influence of geopolitics during and after the Cold War (Joaquin Basilio Diaz, John F. Nash Jr.), and over the course of the book the subjects witness the professionalization of the research community (Charles H. Davis), radical expansions of educational access (Kelly Miller, Edgar L. Edwards Jr.), and contentious, transgenerational debates over curriculum design (Izaak Wirzsup, Frank B. Allen), among many other themes. Through their professional and institutional connections, the subjects of the chapters form a connected component, providing intriguing narrative hooks across time, geography, and status while evidencing the tightly bound community of American mathematics scholarship. The book can be read as professional history or as a collection of biographical essays, and i expect it to become a charming entry point for mathematical, historical, or not-yet-hooked readers into the forces that have shaped the discipline.
Suggested companion work: David E. Zitarelli, A History of Mathematics in the United States and Canada: Volume 1: 1492–1900.
Cory Brunson (he/him) is a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Center for Quantitative Medicine at UConn Health.
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