Monday, May 24, 2010

Martin Gardner, 1914-2010, R.I.P.

Martin Gardner died yesterday. He was 95. Roger Kimball's tribute indicates that he first discovered this remarkable man the same way I did:
I first encountered Gardner’s work in high school when I stumbled on The Annotated Alice, his splendid edition of Lewis Carroll’s two Alice books, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass. I later discovered that he also published annotated editions of other works he admired, including The Wizard of Oz, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, and several books by G. K. Chesterton, one of his favorite authors.

The many tributes that are beginning to pour in about this extraordinary man bear witness to his irrepressible energy and curiosity about the natural world. He wrote a veritable library of books — more than seventy — on mathematics, science, literature, and philosophy and related topics. .... Gardner also wrote hundreds — maybe thousands — of columns for Scientific American (for twenty-five years he wrote the magazine’s Mathematical Games column), The Skeptical Inquirer (where he indulged, delightfully, a passion for exposing the chicanery of pseudo-science), and other magazines, including, I am proud to say, The New Criterion, for which he wrote some dozen pieces over the last six or seven years.
I'm afraid I didn't follow his work much beyond the annotated editions he prepared [Math is not my thing], but those books are delightful. I did encounter a few of his eviscerations, an example of which Kimball provides:
In April, he published an article on Oprah Winfrey, the “gullible billionaire,” whose fondness for quack medicine threatens to tempt her many fans into useless, even dangerous, medical fads.

“Winfrey’s enthusiasm for New Age books reached its apex,” Gardner reports,
when she promoted the monumental idiocy of The Secret. It can be described as a hilarious parody of books by Norman Vincent Peale. Instead of God working miracles, the universe itself does it. The Secret teaches that the universe consists of a vibrating energy that can be tapped into with positive thoughts, allowing you to obtain anything you desire—happiness, love, and of course fabulous wealth. Want to lose weight? Then stop having fat thoughts and think thin! Want to become wealthy? Stop thinking poor thoughts. Think rich!
Roger's Rules » Martin Gardner, 1914-2010 R.I.P.