Sunday, July 5, 2009

A Brief Ode To Stewart's Calculus-NOT.........................

I just read a really funny post at Ars Mathematica and had to share it with all of you with commentary. Apparently, the question's come up with what McMaster's University's self-made gazillionare James Stewart did with all his royalites from the infamous calculus book every other university's department uses. Apparently, he built a gigantic house with his own personal concert hall in the middle of it. You don't believe me? See for yourself :

This was so he-a trained violinist-could perform with his friends in the privacy and comfort of his own mansion. Talk about hubris worthy of being struck down by the Gods with the Ceres asteriod.Apparently the only way Stewart's fragile self esteem could make it as a violinist in a concert hall was to have one built for himself where he'd be the star of the show every single night...............LOL
Sigh. Only in America would that seem like a logical action and not a gigantic excess of self-centered indulgence. I pass-on my way to the bus-recently homeless families of 4 living in thier cars with thier 4 year old daughter crying to the mother, "Mommy,what happened to my bed?" Meanwhile, this grotesquely overpaid hack without an ounce of mathematical talent is spending 3 times what these poor people's former house was worth because he doesn't want to embarrass himself in public with his violin playing.................

But be that as it may-I was honestly asked:How bad IS Stewart's book and what are some of YOUR favorite texts?What would YOU use to teach calculus given the chance?
Well,sadly,since I was a complete imbecile in high school and didn't know grades mattered in life-and my parents being laborers,well,they didn't know either-I ended up at The City University Of New York instead of a REAL college.(I made many friends there and learned a lot-but let no one be decieved my lack of pedigree will give me a huge battle ahead for any degree of success.) So my first exposure to calculus WAS Stewart.
In all fairness,it's not as bad as some people make it out to be. The real positive about the book is the IMMENSE number of exercises with complete solutions. Unfortuately,that's a double edged sword and it's also the main reason it's completely unpalatable for mathematicans:It reduces calculus to a step-by-step, plug-and-chug bag of techniques without even any mathematical insight or thinking. Anything that requires more thought then a baboon is either completely omitted or shunted to a mythical "advanced calculus" course-which no longer exists,of course. The students don't have to do any real thinking at all-which is why most students love it,of course. Let's face it-THAT'S why the bottom feeding universities buy it every year-so the premeds,accounting students,actuaries,pre-law and all the rest of the master cheaters that form the vast majority of bodies filling the enormous lecture halls of the average 200 student calculus course can program the solutions of all thier exams into thier programmable calculators.
"This is AMERICA. Let the Japanese waste thier time thinking and just give me my f***ing A so I can go out and screw people over for 6 figures a year,geek."
It's also why Stewart would never have become so absurdly wealthy writing a book that is the very pinnacle of mediocrity in any other academic system BUT America's. It's why a piece of crap like CHARMED was on for 7 years while great shows like FARSCAPE vanish, why TRANSFORMERS:THE REVENGE OF THE FALLEN-with a mindless plot and racist "black" Autobots-is the #1 film in America-it's why we sold our blood won freedoms to a stupid evil Texan from a rich family we elected king for the illusion of safety while Americans lost the entire Bill of Rights for 8 years.
"Americans aren't stupid!" Really?You must be living in a different USA then I am.
So it goes.
My favorites? Well,when anyone tells you Spivak's CALCULUS is the best calculus book ever-EVER-it's really hard to argue. It's incredibly beautiful and a model of clarity. But much more then that,with every word,picture and exercise,Spivak asks the reader to THINK about the concepts before him or her before setting the task of doing it. Really THINK about it.
Is it too hard for the average student? Well,depends on what you mean by the average student. The average student cheating thier way through every homework and test and sleeping with TAs to get a 4.0 to get into Harvard medicial school,sure. But if you're talking about the average student-not necessarily a mathematics or natural science student-who reads everything with an effort and wonders and asks real questions even if they don't understand or particuarly like it because they're there to LEARN something-it would be a struggle. But with a good teacher by thier side, they could definitely get through it.
And they'd be all the better for it. For the mathematically talented, the book will become a treasured keepsake for a lifetime.The chapter on infinite series alone is worth photocopying and keeping.
I refuse to recommend soft,"applied" books.To me,the pure/applied mathematics distinction is a symptom of the problem above. There is no pure math or applied math-there is only MATHEMATICS. If you don't realize that,you're not part of the solution,you're part of the problem. That being said-the main problem with using Spivak is that he has virtually no applications-just one lame application of vector algebra to celestial mechanics late in the book. The main point of calculus is to calcul-ATE. Theory is important and all well and good, but teaching calculus as real analysis completely devoid of application is a little like teaching music students the complete mechanics of writing scores and symphonies,but never teaching them how to play!!!!
A book that fascinates me and I'd love to try to use for a basic calculus course one day is Donald Estep's PRACTICAL ANALYSIS IN ONE VARIABLE. Estep,a numerical analyst, teaches a basic real analysis course combined with a basic calculus course, using numerical methods to motivate the rigorous development of the real numbers and epsilon-delta arguements-with DOZENS of actual real-world examples from chemistry and physics!!! I'd be a little scared to use the book,though-Estep makes a couple of really strange choices. The biggest one is deciding NOT TO DISCUSS INFINITE SERIES-TO ESTEP, INFINITE SERIES IS BEST DONE WITH COMPLEX VARIABLES,SO HE DECIDES TO FORGET IT. HUH?!?
My favorite all around calculus book is a nearly forgotten one by a legendary teacher-CALCULUS,2nd edition by Edwin E.Moise-based on the course in calculus that Moise taught for many years at Harvard and won several awards for. It's completely rigorous, yet beautifully intuitive with many,many pictures and geometric insight motivated using Euclidean geometry such as lines,planes and conic sections, as well as many,many physical applications. THIS is the book I would use to teach my children calculus.Go to the library and check it out for yourself if you're disappointed with the ton of fluff the departments are trying to push on you to teach calculus with. You'll thank me later,I promise.
Stewart and his private concert hall.Yet another example we are living in the era of the barbarians at the gate. It's so frustrating-with no address,you can't even drive by and throw a firebomb through his window to burn it down...........LOL

1 comment:

PhysicistDave said...


I'm a theoretical physicist, and I do not know you from Adam, but I just ran across this post and found it quite useful.


I'm homeschooling our kids and looking for a good calc book, and had come to the conclusion on my own that Moise was the best. Your detailed discussion helped confirm that I was right.

Dave Miller in Sacramento