Imagine for a moment that you had a friend who was a voracious reader of Math journals and periodicals. And, imagine that this friend had a knack for finding articles that were of interest to mathematicians and non-mathematicians alike by well-known writers and by new talent. Would you be interested in reading a few dozen of these articles? Mircea Pitici, editor of The Best Writing on Mathematics 2010 is such a friend, even if you've never met him.
Publisher Princeton University Press has an interview with Pitici at their blog where he answers the question of how many articles he read to select the ones that got into the book.
It’s difficult to give an estimate, but let me try. I see several thousand articles in one year but obviously I discard most of them quickly (as far as this particular book series is concerned). Not necessarily because they are not worthy of my attention or do not deserve reading; I just know by reading the first paragraph or by a cursory look at the prose and the exposition that they wouldn’t fit in the book I envision. Perhaps I gave serious attention and read thoroughly in direct connection with this volume about four-five times more texts than I finally chose—which means 150 or so. That is a rough approximation.
The end result is 35 interesting and varied articles in six areas: Mathematica Alive, Mathematicians and the Practice of Mathematics, Mathematics and Its Applications, Mathematics Education, History and Philosophy of Mathematics, and Mathematics in the media. The contents are here.
The articles are exceptionally well written as excellent writing is as important to Pitici, who teaches writing about Math to freshmen, as is excellent Math. Articles I particularly enjoyed include "What is Experimental Mathematics?" by Keith Devlin, "Massively Collaborative Mathematics" by Timothy Gowers and Michael Nielsen, "Exploring Curvature with Paper Models" by Howard T. Iseri, and "Why Did Lagrange "Prove" the Parallel Postulate" by Judith V. Grabiner.
Articles are, on average, 10 pages long making this book very amenable to picking up and reading a chapter when you've got a little chunk of time.
Pitici has noble goals for the 2010 anthology. (Yes, there is a 2011 book in the works.)
I suppose most readers of this book are engaged with mathematics in some way, at least by being curious about it. But most of them are inevitably engaged with only a (small) part of mathematics. That is true even for professional mathematicians, with rare exceptions. Mathematics today has far reaching tentacles, in pure research branches as well as in mundane applications and in instructional contexts. No wonder the stakeholders in the metamorphosis of mathematics as a social phenomenon can hardly be well informed about the main ideas and developments in all the different aspects connected to mathematics. I hope this series of volumes makes it easier for readers, insiders and outsiders, to identify the main trends in thinking about mathematics in areas unfamiliar to them. There is plenty of room for everybody to learn more about mathematics.
By editing this series I also want to make widely available, cheaply and conveniently, excellent texts about mathematics that otherwise would be lost in the deluge of information that surrounds us. Writing about mathematics has become a genre, with its own professional practitioners—some highly talented, some struggling to be relevant, some well established, some newcomers. Every year these authors, considered together, publish many books, more or less successful. My selection concerns mostly literature that is not yet available in book form, either articles from academic journals or good writing in the media that goes unobserved or is forgotten after a little while. I see my task as restitution to the public of remarkable writing on mathematics that deserves enhanced reception beyond the initial publication.
I give "The Best Writing on Mathematics 2010" a thumbs up for a nice set of stimulating articles that appeal to a wide audience.