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Mathematics With Love: The Courtship Correspondence of Barnes Wallis, Inventor of the Bouncing Bomb (Macmillan Science) Hardcover – 1 Jan 2005
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'In place of poetry and roses, engineer Barnes Wallis wooed his lady-love with trigonometry and calculus - and won her heart. A charming and unique correspondence from the human side of mathematics.'- Professor Ian Stewart, author of Math Hysteria and Flatterland
'What a lovely book, reminiscent of Nevile Shute's novels. The mixture of maths and suppressed emotion is warm, touching and rather improbable. Here we meet neither the lovable bumbling genius of Paul Brickhill's book The Dam Busters and Michael Redgrave's portrayal in the film, nor the stubborn and difficult man that Wallis could be at the drawing board, but a third man, a shy, loving teacher prepared to go to tremendous lengths for the girl he falls in love with.' - Adam Hart-Davis, author of What the Past Did for Us
'The surprise hit of the year so far! I approached this book with trepidation, but found it absolutely delightful...I don't know why this book is so effective. It really shouldn't be. No really. But it is.' - Brian Clegg, author of Infinity
'This delightful book is...a story with many different attractions: the careful depiction of English life in the 1920s; the slowly developing romance between two contrasting but complementary people; the sweet naivete, to our ears, of their writing; and the quality of the mathematics teaching. It must be a unique courtship and one which deeply unites intellect and feeling.' - New Humanist
'a fascinating episode in the life of a most unusual man...this biography is a fitting tribute to a man to whom our country, and indeed the world, owes a great deal.' - Sir Patrick Moore, Times Higher Education Supplement
'A lovely, charming book, skilfully and unobtrusively narrated.' - The Mathematical Gazette
How a British war hero used mathematics to woo and win the girlSee all Product description
Top customer reviews
It is a delightful book that intersperses complex subjects with human emotions and one that has a happy ending. Wallis gained a reputation for toughness and arrogance by those who did not really know him. This book reveals the gentle, shy but determined side of his character as well as his obvious intellectual talent.
I wish it had been available to read when I was taught calculus because I would have understood it so much better.
Most helpful customer reviews on Amazon.com
I have just come across another gem. "Mathematics with Love: The Courtship Correspondence of Barnes Wallis, Inventor of the Bouncing Bomb" is the story and almost complete correspondence between Barnes Wallace and the love of his life, Molly Bloxam. It was "written" by one of their children, Mary Stopes-Roe, who was trained as a historian and psychologist. She worked for many years at the University of Birmingham where she studied parent-child interactions with families of Asian and British ethnic origin. While archiving her family's papers, she came across the courtship correspondence of her parents.
It is an incredible story and absolutely delightful.
At 17, Molly was on her way to university in London to study science and was struggling with math and physics. Her suitor was a 35-year-old shy man from England who had accepted a teaching job in Switzerland. From there, through their daily correspondence, he taught her math.
It is delightful to read the English phrases, to read the descriptions of university and Switzerland, to experience vicariously what was happening to two people between the end of World War I and leading up to World War II.
Most interesting is to see their feelings change for each other through the letters over time. At the outset he had fallen in love with her but was too shy to even say good-bye (he stood her up and left England without following through on his promise to say good-bye in person). For whatever reason, based on only one or two personal visits with him when the families visited, she took up correspondence with him. Perhaps he was only a sounding board for her in the beginning. But from there it developed into a full-fledged love affair.
So, I've started reading it. As one who loves math, journals, diaries, stories of love affairs, this is a real, real gem.
I see this book is available through Amazon resellers for $48. I got my redundant (and absolutely perfect condition with dust jacket) for $15.98, at the local Half-Price Bookstore in San Antonio.
On April 23rd, 1922 Barnes met Molly. They began to write to each other, at her father's insistence they could only correspond if he used the letters to teach her mathematics. So he taught her calculus.
He proposed on Thursday December 21st 1922. She accepted on Friday September 12th 1924. They married April 23rd 1925. They were married for fifty years.
This is an absolutely delightful book from a time long past. I can only imagine if I told my daughter that her boyfriend could only correspond with her if he were using the letters to teach mathematics.
Barnes Wallis invented the 1943 "Dam Buster" bouncing bomb, which crippled Nazi war production for six months, diverted Nazi construction resources away from the West Wall, and was a vital contribution to Normandy's success in 1944 and Germany's defeat in 1945, saving millions of lives, including my soldier-in-training father.
In 1922, Barnes Wallis was a shy 35 yo airship designer between jobs, smitten by his 17 yo cousin-by-marriage, Molly Bloxam, whose father permitted them only to correspond by instructional letters until she was 20. What started as amusingly-written calculus and trigonometry instruction turned into prim and polite yet passionate romance between two intelligent people, launching the marriage that produced 4 very intelligent children.
An interlude in Switzerland, teaching at an english-language boys school, shows that Barnes Wallis might have been a great teacher had he not gone back to Vickers to design the best airship ever built (the R100) and develop geodesic construction. His protege, Nevil Shute Norway, became another great aircraft designer, and later a great novelist; read "Nevil Shute's" autobiographical "Slide Rule", and novels "Trustee from the Tool Room", "No Highway", and "A Town Like Alice". I imagine Barnes Wallis helped Nevil Shute Norway become a great aircraft designer, and Molly encouraged Nevil Shute to be a great writer. Our best contributions are the encouragement of the young, and you can see that in "Mathematics With Love". Great engineering projects are like first class universities, and great project leaders develop teams of bright young people who later surpass them.
Perhaps Wallis's time as a teacher in Switzerland also had such ripple effects - I can imagine one of his students later teaching graduate-level mathematics to Verena Huber, who married Freeman Dyson to produce Esther and George Dyson, all prolific and intelligent writers.
The 1955 movie "The Dam Busters" (a favorite) portrays the help that Molly and the family contributed to the invention of the bouncing bomb. Without them enriching and supporting his life, Wallis might not have made his discovery, or had such a strong personal desire to help end the war the way he did. The 1951 Brickhill "Dam Busters" and the 1972 Morpurgo "Barnes Wallis, a Biography" shed more light on Wallis's career and challenges.
I am still reading this book, slowly, a few letters per week. That helps me savor and enjoy the pace and development of this romance, the discipline and the eagerness that drove these two, and the patience that led to so many good things for their family and for the rest of the world. Yes, I cheated and read the last half-dozen letters out of sequence; I am not patient enough. The romance is touching, the meeting of the minds is thrilling, and the insight into how we help each other learn can help leaders and teachers. I'm buying a few of the used copies and sending them as just-for-the-hell-of-it gifts for friends - sorry, you will have to buy the more expensive copies :-(
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