SCIENTISTS' NIGHTSTAND

# Scientists' Nightstand: Chris Sangwin

Chris Sangwin researches applied mathematics at the University of Birmingham in the United Kingdom. He is the author, most recently, of *How Round Is Your Circle? Where Engineering and Mathematics Meet *(Princeton University Press, 2008), which he cowrote with John Bryant. He is also author, with Chris Budd, of *Mathematics Galore! Masterclasses, Workshops and Team Projects in Mathematics and Its Applications *(Oxford University Press, 2001). His homepage and GeoGebra page offer videos and animations of applied mathematics in action.

** Could you tell us a bit about yourself? **

I'm currently a lecturer in the School of Mathematics at the University of Birmingham. I grew up in Salisbury before going to Oxford and then Bath as a graduate student. I graduated and moved to Birmingham in 2000. At present my research work is in applied mathematics and also on computer-aided assessment. My hobbies include mountaineering and beekeeping. I've always been interested in the outdoors, so mountaineering was a natural choice. I took up beekeeping recently and am having a huge amount of fun, making some delicious honey and appreciating much more how important food production really is!

**What books are you currently reading (or have you just finished reading) for your work or for pleasure? Why did you choose them, and what do you think of them? **

I've just finished a very interesting biography of Léon Foucault (as in Foucault's pendulum)— *The Life and Science of Léon Foucault: The Man Who Proved the Earth Rotates, *by William Tobin (Cambridge University Press, 2003) and am in the middle of Galileo's *Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems, Ptolemaic and Copernican *(1632). I'm reading these mostly for pleasure, but they are work-related in a peripheral way. I'm currently rather obsessed by the pendulum and its various friends. The *Dialogue *is a world classic. Both have turned out to be more interesting than I expected, and I'd certainly recommend the *Dialogue *to anyone interested in science.

**When and where do you usually read (specific location, time of day, etc.)? **

I read a lot at home, on Sunday afternoons and when on holiday. Planes, trains and buses provide another source of time when I can read. But I don't find myself with as much time to read as I'd like, really!

**Who are your favorite writers (fiction, nonfiction or poetry)? Why? **

I really like David Lodge and Robertson Davies—both are very amusing, which I like in fiction. I've never read that much poetry but do love nonsense poetry, particularly that of Mervyn Peake, author of the *Gormenghast *trilogy of novels (Eyre and Spottiswoode, 1946-1950).

**What are the three best books you've ever read? Explain. **

This is a really difficult question. I'd probably choose Tolkien's *The Lord of the Rings *trilogy (Allen and Unwin, 1954-55) for fiction, which I read again and again. Also, Leonhard Euler's *Introduction to Analysis of the Infinite *(1748) (see below for why) and, from my childhood, *How Tom Beat Captain Najork and His Hired Sportsmen *, by Russell Hoban, illustrated by Quentin Blake (J. Cape, 1974).

**What book has influenced you most? Explain how. **

Euler's *Introduction to Analysis of the Infinite *is probably the most influential maths book I've ever read. It persuaded me of the importance of giving full rein to intuition and following one's nose a little more. He writes in such a clear, but unhurried, style that it is a real pleasure to read. The two volumes combine analysis and geometry in a way which is unusual for the modern reader. I really do recommend it.

**Name three books you want to read but haven't gotten to yet. **

Newton's Principia (not the easiest thing to read, by all accounts!), Richard Feynman's *Lectures on Physics *(Addison-Wesley, 1963-65) and Homer's *Iliad *. I'm probably not supposed to admit I've not read these, but there we are!

**What books would you recommend to young readers? **

I really didn't read that much as a youngster, to be honest! I do remember reading, and thoroughly enjoying, Frank Herbert's *Dune *(Chilton Books, 1965) as a teenager, and would recommend that. Recommending a mathematics book is very difficult. *Calculus Gems: Brief Lives and Memorable Mathematics, *by George Simmons (McGraw-Hill, 1992), is one that I'd recommend, because it has both biographies of mathematicians and also some snippets of mathematics.

**What science book recommendations do you have for nonscientists? **

I can't really recommend a science book as such, since my area is mathematics. Simon Singh's *Fermat's Last Theorem: The Story of a Riddle That Confounded the World's Greatest Minds for 358 Years *(Fourth Estate, 1998) gives a very good account of what pure mathematics is about, so I'd recommend it. For the slightly more mathematically sophisticated reader, *Gamma: Exploring Euler's Constant, *by Julian Havil (Princeton University Press, 2003), is also really excellent.

**Name one book in your discipline that you would recommend for scientists outside your field. Explain your choice. **

The mathematics book I'd recommend to people outside applied maths is David Acheson's *From Calculus to Chaos: An Introduction to Dynamics *(Oxford University Press, 1997). This is one of the best tours through applied mathematics for the non-specialist. The style is informal, and not all the equations are solved, but it includes so many of the classic examples that have developed applied mathematics over the centuries.

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