Archive for the 'Writing' Category

Loss of Continuity

February 23, 2006

I apologize for the following personal note in the midst of a Calculus blog.

Writing a book is a large commitment. You have to have a bigger reason than possible financial reward for writing. And I did. I looked at my beautiful, bright daughters and wanted them to have this book when they were ready to explore Calculus. Chris Adamson, friend and co-editor on several O’Reilly sites said something similar when I was wavering on writing it. He wanted to put it away for his children.

The number of things we have put away for our children.

Maggie Rose, my eldest, has already proofread the first chapter and given it her approval. She’s nine but I truly value her opinion. Elena Maxine loved the pictures. She loved that her dad could write books. There was so much that she loved and expressed. She was a beautiful, happy, loving child who died yesterday afternoon suddenly.

As Kim and I sat up last night crying and holding each other, I asked what the point was of continuing the book. She said “you need to dedicate it to her”.

I sobbed.

I’ve co-written nine books now and never dedicated one to my children. This was to have been the one. I suppose it will be.

I will need help writing this. I will need help for lots of things I suppose. Yesterday it didn’t feel real. Today it feels insurmountable.

It’s certainly a discontinuity. It’s odd because it oscilates between feeling like a vertical asymptote that I’ll never surmount and a removable discontinuity – she’ll wake up soon and be with us again. Of course it’s a jump discontinuity. Something dramatic happened yesterday and life is changed. I’m just not sure how yet.

I don’t know if this is common to mathematicians – but having a deep understanding of the infinite makes me profoundly afraid of death.

In any case, I hope you will forgive this personal intrusion. I have started a personal blog to work this through at Dear Elena.

How to write a big fat Calculus book

February 20, 2006

Step one: get a bunch of other big fat Calculus books

Step two: spread them out in front of you

Step three: worry that your book will not be complete unless you include the union of all that they include

Step four: write a book that is like all the other books that have come before you

At the end of this process you have a book that is enough like Thomas or Stewart or some other well known book to make it easy for your publisher to market. There’s nothing wrong with that, but why then should someone buy your book and not one of the existing ones. If your book is just like Thomas then why not buy Thomas.

On the other hand, if it’s nothing like Thomas then there should be a good reason for that. Some books have differentiated themselves on supplements and adoption or non-adoption of technology. Others have been reform books. There are also those that target a subset of the market (Calc for Business students, Calc for Science majors, Calc for Engineers).

If you only targeted Math majors you wouldn’t sell very many books. So one solution is to create a book that aims to serve all of these audiences and let the instructors pick and choose which subset of the book to use.

Underwood Dudley has warned about books that get written for the Mathematicians teaching the course and not for the students taking it. I’ll say more about his essay later – but the result is a big fat Calculus book.

People fear that the opposite of those oversized books is a dumbed down calculus.

Two of my favorite books are relatively small and light and not dumbed down. One is Frank Morgan’s “Calculus Lite” and the other is Sylvanus Thompson’s “Calculus Made Easy” which has been reissued with help from Martin Gardner. I’m sure I’ll come back to these two later as well. In the mean time, Paul has just lent me three big fat calculus books. They are really heavy so they must be full of really good things.

The second book that I co-authored was a big fat book. Our editor was committed to providing quality and not just bulk. The series format, however, required bulk as well. The earlier books had been heavy but mostly they reprinted documentation that was freely available on line. Once we assumed that people could access this documentation, we were free to fill the pages with content that mattered.