Mathematics for the Million Essay - Critical Context

Lancelot Hogben

Critical Context

Mathematics for the Million and its companion volume, Science for the Citizen (1938), can be seen as the centerpiece of Lancelot Hogben’s career for a number of reasons: They are his best-known works, they were published at around the middle of his life, and they represent a synthesis of his interests. Hogben began as a zoologist, writing technical books on physiology and genetics, and wound up trying his hand at a number of areas—from language, in Essential World English (1963), to political reform, in Interglossa: A Draft of an Auxiliary for a Democratic World Order (1943). Perhaps his most common theme, however, and the one for which he is best known, is the idea of expressing technical subjects in ways that make them intelligible by, and relevant to the daily concerns of, as many people as possible. Mathematics for the Million was followed by more specialized mathematical and scientific books for adults, on probability, statistics, and document design, and by children’s books in the same areas, including The Wonderful World of Mathematics (1955) and Beginnings and Blunders: Or, Before Science Began (1970).

The response to Hogben has been predominantly favorable. Critics praised him for his thoroughness, his expository skills, and his ability to make technical material interesting and understandable, but some have made objections to the polemical nature of his writing. Hogben’s attempts to aim Mathematics for the Million at a general adult audience—rather than a specifically juvenile or young adult one—have limited the discussion of this text as a school book, but it is one whose ease of exposition makes it accessible to most adolescents.