Monday, August 18, 2014

Math or Baseball (or Maybe Both?) Dan Epstein in Convesation with Mitch Teich Tonight (August 18) and Jordan Ellenberg Tomorrow (August 19), Both at 7 and Both at Boswell.

In 1976, I was a sophomore in high school. I didn't exactly know what I was doing with myself, but I was pretty sure it involved math. I took advanced classes. I volunteered in the math office. But most of all, I joined the math team. It wasn't until later that I was co-captain of the team, spending much time being coached by our teachers, so that we could compete in the all-city competitions. While we had nothing so much as funding, we did raise money to buy team jackets by selling bagels to students during breaks. The whole thing sounds a bit surreal, doesn't it?

Aside from this strange set of competitions, I did not participate in team sports. Though my friends had some athletic ability and participated in tennis and that New York specialty, handball, I was not only a klutz, but had this terrible fear of both losing and winning. You would think that this would have hurt me in math competitions, but I never quite understood who I was competing against, so I never felt the anxiety that I had on a baseball diamond or tennis court. I played tennis for years, but I cracked under any amount of psychological pressure. I was clearly the son of my father, who preferred to volley over keeping score.

Our school was not the sportiest, so to speak. We had a baseball team that played in the city championships (at Yankee Stadium, not the less prestigious Shea), but did no football. Our principal thought it was too dangerous, and in that, he was kind of prescient. Because the school was named after Benjamin Cardozo, the first Jewish Supreme Court justice (this is Queens in the 1970s--did I mention that?), the boys' teams were called the Judges. In a bit of sexism that reflects the times, the girls' teams were called the Judgettes. I'm hoping they were later renamed the Judges.

Our two events this week are a book about baseball in the 1970s (tonight) and a book about math (tomorrow). I don't know about you, but all my high school anxiety has come rushing back. It didn't stop me, however from using this time to read another upcoming event book, a novel called The Mathematician's Shiva, by Stuart Rojstaczer. It's about climatologist who returns home to Madison for his mother's funeral. She was rock star in the math world, but was bitter that she never won the Field medal. She would have waited a long time--the first Field medal went to a woman just last week, coincidentally. Maryam Mirzakahani is a professor at Stanford. While Professor Mirzhakhani is not visiting Boswell, Stuart Rojstaczer, he with the fictional mother who was overlooked for the honor, is on Wednesday, September 10, 7 pm, and it's co-sponsored by Sam and Helen Stahl Center for Jewish Studies.

Tonight, August 18, also 7 pm, is our conversation between Dan Epstein (above left), author of Stars and Strikes: Baseball and America in the Bicentennial Summer of '76, and Mitch Teich of WUWM's Lake Effect. While Epstein was researching his last book, Big Hair and Plastic Grass, he realized that he had a ton of material on baseball, and it turned out that 1976 was a signature moment, in the midst of owner promotions gone beserko, and just before the rise in free agency, a big power change in the game.

Or maybe it was the Bicentennial festivities that led to the craziness. William Hageman writes in the Chicago Tribune: "In a perfect storm of baseball, patriotism and promotion run amok, the festivities included a Paul Revere impersonator on horseback who galloped into the stadium and handed a baseball to a man wearing a spacesuit and rocket belt. He, in turn, took off 150 feet into the air, circled the field and landed on the pitcher's mound, where he was met by Phillies' Hall of Fame pitcher Robin Roberts, who had just emerged from a baseball-shaped float. Roberts then threw out the ceremonial first pitch. That's hoopla, fans."

Thanks to the Shepherd Express for making it the featured Book Preview.

Tomorrow, Tuesday, August 19, we're pleased to welcome Jordan Ellenberg, author of How Not to Be Wrong: The Power of Mathematical Thinking. Yes, he's a  math professor who has also studied creative writing. He even has a novel, The Grasshopper King, which was published by Coffee House Press.

Ellenberg has gotten a lot of attention for the book, including a review by Manil Suri (another creative writer slash mathematician) in The Washington Post and an interview with Carolyn Kellogg in the Los Angeles Times. And we can't forget about Jim Higgins' profile in the Journal Sentinel? Is he responsible for the "multiply" pun or can we thank the copy editor? I thought it was a fine pun myself.

I was hoping to read How Not to Be Wrong on this buying trip (I'm at a gift show for a few days) but alas, I am still reading Charles Montgomery's Happy City: Transforming Our Lives through Urban Design. It really seemed the perfect book to read while in New York (our good customer Tom recommended it) and since I have a shelf of urban planning and history books that hasn't been added to in years, I decided I needed a treat. That said, I haven't added to my shelf of math books in years either. I'm hoping that the plane ride tomorrow isn't delayed; I have to get back and help with the Epstein event! But if things go wrong, at least I can prepare better for the Ellenberg event.

So that's this week's lineup. The only person I can think of who'd be more excited was Larry, my high school classmate who was co-captain of both the math and baseball teams. Do you think that there's anyone else in America who can make a claim like that?

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