Gardner’s Whys and Wherefores

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 282

Martin Gardner is known to readers as the author of works on mathematics, such as MARTIN GARDNER’S NEW MATHEMATICAL DIVERSIONS. Others know him for his literary and critical excursions--such as his ANNOTATED ALICE. Some recognize him as the author of popular but accurate science studies, including essays in DISCOVER, NATURE, and THE NEW YORK REVIEW OF BOOKS. In GARDNER’S WHYS AND WHEREFORES, the reader can sample all of these delightful sides of this talented and witty authority on just about everything.

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Part 1 consists of essays, scientific or literary. Gardner reprints the introductions to his annotated versions of Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” and the baseball ballad “Casey at the Bat.” Lucid, enlightening, and enjoyable, these essays provide even the familiar reader of these very different poems with new knowledge and interest in the texts. Gardner’s other forays into the thickets of literary criticism, including a survey of the mathematical and linguistic puzzles worked into James Joyce’s ULYSSES, are notable for their good sense and humor.

Book reviews form part 2, and again the reader is struck by the diversity of Gardner’s interests and knowledge, and delights in the clarity with which he presents even the most difficult and abstruse of topics, from the mysteries of elusive “polywater” to the intricacies of Godel’s Proof. Gardner is the best sort of reviewer: He gives the essence of the book without destroying its freshness, and his comments both illuminate the work they discuss and are enjoyable in their own right.

In this somewhat credulous New Age of crystals and channeling, Gardner directs his readers to the real and infinitely more intriguing aspects of the universe.

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