Alum's work honors best writing in mathematics

By: Anna Carmichael,  A&S Communications
March 15, 2017

Mircea Pitici, Ph.D. ‘15, distinctly remembers going to a bookstore in 2004 and seeing books with titles such as  like “Best American Science Writing” and  “Best American Essays.” As a lover of mathematics, he wanted to see a similar series on math; when he asked the clerk for such a  book, she explained there was no such thing.

Intrigued, Pitici went to the library and did some research, which confirmed the clerk’s explanation. But Pitici knew there was a lot of stellar writing out there about mathematics, so he decided to try starting such a series of anthologies.

“I wanted to make great writing accessible and show people how many different perspectives about mathematics exist out there,” he said.

While getting his Ph.D. in mathematics education from Cornell, Pitici began telling several people about his idea, including Steven Strogatz, the Jacob Gould Schurman Professor of Applied Mathematics and a Stephen H. Weiss Presidential Fellow at Cornell, who put him in contact with Vicky Kearn, a math editor from Princeton University Press. Kearn liked the project but said that in order for a book to be accepted by the board of the Princeton University Press, Pitici would need a well-known mathematician to write the forward.

Pitici asked William Thurston, a Cornell professor at the time and a very famous topologist. Thurston agreed to write the forward and the book was approved for publication. “The Best Writing on Mathematics 2010” was the first edition and each year since a new book has been published.

Each year, Pitici meticulously searches through scholarly journals and websites and receives submissions for his book. He reads article after article, accumulating a collection of pieces that reflect the mathematics community. Since there are many different areas within the study of mathematics, Pitici tries to pick a range of materials that cover all areas.

“Few people realize how much writing on mathematics is published in various venues. They think it’s just the textbooks — but there is so much more (and better) than that,” Pitici said.

Once he has picked articles, he considers their length, subject and how well they are written before he makes final decisions about what to include.

Pitici said he has always held an interest in the intersection between mathematics and humanities, and this series has combined the two.

Along with his Ph.D. from Cornell, Pitici is also working on a master’s degree in library and information science at Syracuse University.

Anna Carmichael is a communications assistant for the College of Arts & Sciences.

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