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Martin Gardner undiluted

Princeton University Press recently published "Undiluted Hocus-Pocus: The Autobiography of Martin Gardner." I've not reviewed the book since these days I pretty much only interview authors and living authors at that. So, no review from me, but I highly recommend Shecky's review and Shecky's first impressions at Math Tango.

What inspired to blog this afternoon was an email I received from Andrew S. DeSio, Director of Publicity for Princeton University Press. Andrew has asked me to help spread the word that Martin Gardner really did write his own autobiography. Here's an excerpt from Andrew's message.

"Since the book has released some critics of the bio have claimed the book was posthumously pieced together by friends of the famed math writer and that the new biography is a collaboration between the Press and friends of Gardner. This is simply not true. Prior to his death, Martin Gardner wrote a complete manuscript of his autobiography. While some of his dearest friends helped us fine tune the project, this book is absolutely his own. Our math editor Vickie Kearn and I would like the opportunity to refute this claim and so we are hoping your blog might be the perfect forum for us to post a “Letter” with our official statement on the book."

I have to say that in all of my numerous dealings with Princeton University Press I have never ever sensed any action that might be out of integrity. In particular, I've had a few email exchanges with their math editor Vickie Kearn and I even interviewed her for one of my podcasts and, if Vickie says that Martin Gardner wrote his autobiography himself, I believe her.

Here is Vickie's letter. And, here is an excerpt from Martin Gardner's original manuscript, courtesy of Princeton University Press.

Who Wrote Martin Gardner’s Autobiography?

By Vickie Kearn, Mathematics Editor, Princeton University Press

Once we began to promote Undiluted Hocus Pocus: The autobiography of Martin Gardner, a few people asked me “Who wrote the book?” I initially thought they were confusing a biography with an autobiography but now that I have read a few reviews on amazon, I understand why they asked the question. Some believe that Gardner’s friends put together bits and pieces of things that Martin Gardner wrote. So to clarify things, here is the back story about the publication of this book.

I never met Martin Gardner. I never talked with him on the phone. But, we did write letters to one another for almost 25 years. No one writes letters anymore so when I receive one, I always get excited—especially when it is from someone like Martin Gardner. His letters were always full of fun information and sometimes they concerned book projects we were working on. The letters were always written on a typewriter and corrected by hand in ink, often green. He wrote in small script and it sometimes took a while to sort out the handwriting but the letters were always a treasure trove and worth the effort to decipher.

When Martin’s son, Jim Gardner, contacted me and asked if Princeton University Press would be interested in publishing Martin’s autobiography, I was thrilled. I could not think of a book I would more like to publish. As with many people, Martin Gardner had a huge amount to do with my becoming a math major so being able to do something for him was a fantastic opportunity.

When Jim sent the manuscript I started laughing because it looked like an extremely long letter. It was written with the same typewriter and edited in the same way as his letters. I have attached a page from the manuscript in case you never corresponded with Martin Gardner.

Jim and I talked for a long time about Martin’s wishes for the manuscript and we decided that we would change as little as possible in the manuscript. We could not ask the author his opinion about any changes so we kept asking ourselves would Martin like any changes we planned before we made them. We did correct typos and filled in all the ??? he had sprinkled throughout the manuscript. We confirmed some dates and the order in which events took place.

There are a few places in the manuscript where there is some repetition. Martin had many interests and we knew some people would go only to the chapters that interested them. So, in cases where we thought that might happen, we allowed the repeated material to stand.

Some people ask why it took so long to publish the book after Martin’s death. He finished the manuscript a few months before he died and passed it to his son to decide what to do with it. With any large estate, there are lots of decisions to make and time passes quickly. People who knew Martin well have found some wonderful stories in the book that they never heard before. Other people wish there was more in the book about other things and wonder why he included what he did. We will never know the answer to that question but I do know the answer to:
Who wrote Martin Gardner’s autobiography? He did!

Comments (2) Trackbacks (1)
  1. hi Sol, thanks for the plug; I’ll just point out that you’ve linked to my sort-of first-take on the Gardner volume, and I did a much longer, more detailed review in a post a week later:

    …Had no idea there was any controversy over authorship of the volume… the words so clearly sound like Martin just rambling along about his life.
    Next year marks the 100th anniversary of his birth, and there is another major biography on the way, so still lots to look forward to!

  2. Thanks, Shecky. I’ve added your second link.

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