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A Mathematician's Lament: How School Cheats Us Out of Our Most Fascinating and Imaginative Art Form

4.13  ·  Rating Details ·  1,272 Ratings  ·  139 Reviews
“One of the best critiques of current mathematics education I have ever seen.”—Keith Devlin, math columnist on NPR’s Morning Edition

A brilliant research mathematician who has devoted his career to teaching kids reveals math to be creative and beautiful and rejects standard anxiety-producing teaching methods. Witty and accessible, Paul Lockhart’s controversial approach will
Paperback, 144 pages
Published April 1st 2009 by Bellevue Literary Press (first published January 1st 2009)
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May 18, 2013 Ioana rated it it was ok
As a mathematics teacher and long-time student of mathematics, I was overjoyed when I came across this book. Finally, I thought, an ode to the profound beauty and elegance of this most precise and direct human languages. And, hopefully, an expose on the state of mathematics education, and a plea to change course, maybe even some practical suggestions on how we may begin to do this.

Lockhart and I started in lock-step. YES. The current state of mathematics education is a TRAVESTY - we are most emp
Vilém Zouhar
Jun 10, 2015 Vilém Zouhar rated it really liked it
Definietly a must read for all math teachers. I was starting to get a bit bored in the end, but when I started to realize that, the book was over. Paul Lockhart shows where the current system leads us to: a mass productions of pattern-recognition machines (read: students). I really liked the introduction parable.
Jul 01, 2011 Sally rated it really liked it
I know - 4 stars? Really? The content and the ideas and the presentation are 5-star material. He's a bit crude sometimes, and there's a particularly hedonistic phrase used near the end of the book (part 2, not the free essay material) that I felt was just unneeded. And since I recommended this to all my dear homeschooling friends, some of whom have tender sensibilities, I knocked a star off. Disclaimer done.

Now, for the high praises!! YES, math is supposed to be FUN. It's about noticing, thinkin
Misericordia ❣
Feb 07, 2016 Misericordia ❣ rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
This is brilliant! After reading this I finally remember what fascinated me about maths before I was trained to sit maths exams.
The author's stunningly poethic approach to math as a study of world and its transcendent nature that is so eloquently explained in this work can make even the most antimathematically thinking person to fall in love with maths!
A sure must reread.
Jul 05, 2011 K. rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Math haters
Recommended to K. by: Sally B.
Shelves: education
Disclaimer 1) This is only a review of the 25 page essay, which can be found here: Why am I reviewing the essay instead of the book? Well, I don’t have the book, but I did read the essay and thought that posting a review of even part of it would be of worth to some poor, sad, math-challenged-but-don’t-know-why soul.

Disclaimer2) I know next to nothing about mathematics, but am endeavoring to want to learn it. God bless you, Sally B., for sending me the li
Oct 20, 2010 Angela rated it it was ok
A Mathematician's Lament is more of a long essay than a book--one man's problems with mathematics education without a viable solution. Now, I consider myself, while no mathematician, a mathematics...enthusiast, if you will. I read the occasional recreational mathematics book, I am one of the three people on earth who subscribes to the journal of recreational mathematics, I am constantly sneaking new variations on Tangrams and other puzzles into the house. And I am definitely not a fan of modern ...more
Tracy Black
Dec 28, 2011 Tracy Black rated it did not like it
Shelves: didn-t-finish
This was TERRIBLE. The first chapter began so well and had me so psyched about the book. Lockhart made an analogy between mathematics and music, where a musician wakes from a terrible dream in which public schools teach only the mechanics of music, but students are not allowed to compose or listen to music until college level. I thought it was a brilliant analogy. But it was downhill from there. His solution to the problem of math not being "fun" seemed to be to no longer teach the mechanics of ...more
Mar 13, 2010 Nick rated it it was amazing
Slightly expanded from the essay online (pdf) in that it has a Part II: Exultation where Lockhart wants to "tell you more about what math really is and why I love it so much." (p.92).

Seriously, this is a great essay/book. Worth reading probably once a semester, if not more. And before structuring a class (curriculum). The faux dialog at the end of every section is awesome, and indicates good ways to respond to nay-sayers (are there any?), even if not all of the questions/concerns are fully addre
May 26, 2009 Phil rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: everyone
This book is fantastic. I recommend it to all those people who, upon hearing from me that I do math, have replied, "Oh, I suck at math" or "Oh, I always hated math in school." For years I've encountered a recurring frustration at the fact that, when I tell people that I'm studying mathematics, I tend to discover that they have a completely wrong impression of what it is that I do (or at least try to do), and that it is not easy to correct this impression. I try to tell them: you hate math becaus ...more
Oct 13, 2013 Scott rated it it was amazing
An excellent book that lays out a strong case that schools fail - yet again - at a task at which it is meant to be good. Teaching math is the target, but the same arguments could certainly be applied to any number of areas of study. For instance, as a social studies teacher charged with leading my students through various curriculums, I feel the awful pull of those vocab terms, those textbook pages etc. The best thing for a history student is to practice being a historian, and I do my best to bo ...more
May 07, 2015 Diego rated it it was amazing
Shelves: math
"Now hold on a minute, Paul. Are you telling me that mathematics is nothing more than an exercise in mental masturbation? Making up imaginary patterns and structures for the hell of it and then investigating them and trying to devise pretty explanations for their behavior, all for the sake of some sort of rarified
intellectual aesthetic?
Yep. That's what I'm saying. In particular, pure mathematics (by which I mean the fine art of mathematical proof) has absolutely no practical or economic value wh
Oct 28, 2009 Georg rated it it was amazing
Shelves: english, non-fiction
If you like Mathematics and if you like a Polemic Opinion this wll be your book. Lockhart's criticism is certainly exaggerated, but I knew from the beginning that in his heart he was right. The best parts of his book were not dedicated to the educational system but to his love for Mathematics. And though he only gave some examples I knew what he meant. I was sitting on the shore of the Maltese Meditaranian ocean and I needed four beers to understand his (geometrical) "proof for the fact, that th ...more
Doug Wells
Jul 10, 2011 Doug Wells rated it really liked it
OK - so my dirty secret is that my degree is in mathematics. I have always loved math - it is art to me, not the dry statistical applications that we think of as math in our schools. That's arithmetic - there's no creativity there, mostly just rote memorization. This book is a brilliant, passionate, sometimes over the top, treatise by a teacher and mathematician about the beauty of math, and how our schools and teachers, and society are screwing it up. He sometimes takes it too far - and I absol ...more
Squatting Erudite
Sep 17, 2012 Squatting Erudite rated it it was amazing
Shelves: mathematics
Oh boy, oh boy, oh boy, where do I start!

Perhaps with this: YOU, YES YOU, READ THIS ASAP, I'm strongly convinced you won't regret it, especially if you're involved with maths in one way or the other!

This is by far the most inspiring book on mathematics I've ever stumbled upon and I honestly doubt that I'll stumble again on something so honest, so true, so passionate and human! I'm sure many of you mathematics lovers will experience the same feeling of joy and understanding when you hear what Loc
Stephen Simpson
Apr 25, 2017 Stephen Simpson rated it did not like it
Shelves: own
This is far less a "lament" and much more of a rant. Like most rants, it starts off with some reasonable points/objections and is amusing to listen to at first ... and then, like most rants, it veers right off the road, through the fence, and ends up upside down in a pond with a nearby cow just staring at the wreckage, slowly chewing its cud.

I have no objection to the claim(s) that the way math is taught today is illogical and stultifying. But the notions that math is an "art" and that is was c
Mar 22, 2013 Kasey rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
When I was 20 years old, I walked into a symbolic logic class at a big time liberal arts university because the philosophy department seemed like the easiest path to those math credits I needed. I fell in love. Proofs were fun, I was good at it, and the act of reasoning through those problems was a creative endeavor that provided the same high as writing a great short story or haiku.

How come none of this came up when talking to my high school math teachers? Why was I always the kid who was "no
Jul 16, 2012 Clare rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: people who hated math in school; also, people who love math anyway
My boyfriend is a mathematician. Whenever he tells this to people, they tend to either change the subject, or say how much they hate math then change the subject. This book is an ode to a lovely and deep art form that doesn't receive the love and respect it deserves. I had (for the most part) quite good math teachers in my public school education. Nevertheless, until I took a proof-based college-level math class, there was never much emphasis on working out problems (ie. proofs) in a creative wa ...more
Tatyana Chesnokova
Aug 19, 2015 Tatyana Chesnokova rated it it was amazing
"And so the senseless tragedy known as mathematics education continues, and only grows more indefensibly asinine and corrupt with each year. ... School has never been about thinking and creating. School is about training children to perform so that they can be sorted. It's no shock to learn that math is ruined in school; everything is ruined in school!"

I couldn't agree more. And it's so painful to experience this again with Vanya's schooling. He comes home after school tired of being bored for t
Nov 12, 2010 Angel rated it it was amazing
Shelves: education
I'm actually interested in math now! This book blew my mind and shifted my paradigm in only 90-ish half-sized pages.

Lockhart is brilliant and witty. I found myself laughing out loud several times while reading.
He compares our math curriculum to a hypothetical world in which we teach children musical theory until they're 18, and if they do really well memorizing all the notes and symbols, then they may start listening to music and learning an instrument in college. He says no one (especially curr
Nov 17, 2012 Jane rated it it was amazing
If you hated math in school, read this and give math another chance.

If you teach math, consider how you might incorporate just a hint of what this book suggests for embracing real math in the classroom, in spite of standards, testing, curriculum, and your own education.

If you think your own children need more math practice and homework, read this and ponder the similarities between math and art and what you really want for your child.

If you're a writer, read this and weep at how you fail to ge
Aug 03, 2016 Tom rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
This book (actually I read the original essay) literally changed my life. Completely affects the way I think about education, math, and the school system. If you like problem solving, science, math, anti-establishment sentiments, or just a well-structured passionate argument read this! The essay is available for free - just do a Google search for "Lockhart's Lament" - it's short and exciting so just get to it!
Mms Mamdouh Al Shamy
Aug 28, 2013 Mms Mamdouh Al Shamy rated it it was amazing
Shelves: math, favorites
The first part of the book focus on a debate to show that mathematics is learnt in a totally wrong way and teachers of mathematics should have a joy of math and try to transfer it to students. And show that math was created to give joy to its tasters as poem and sculpture.

The second part is to give examples of the beauty and elegant of math.
Mar 26, 2009 Diane rated it it was ok
Shelves: non-fiction
This is only 140 pages but probably ought to be about 40 to 50. The author makes his point and then makes it again and again and again..... After his rant, his examples are pretty interesting.

I wonder if his theory about learning math is correct.
Ben Kim
Feb 18, 2012 Ben Kim rated it it was amazing
This work is a must-read for any student of mathematics interested in going into academia or mathematics education. It is refreshing to see the underlying beauty of mathematics analogized in atypical ways, and Lockhart is masterful in the way he does so.
Kirsten Swanson
This is a beautifully, passionately written book. I especially liked the last part, when he discussed the things that particularly make mathematicians giddy.
Sep 09, 2013 Ilib4kids rated it it was amazing
510.71 LOC
"If you want to build a ship, don't drum up people to collect wood and don't assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea."
- Antoine de Saint Exupéry
P39. To help your students memorize formula for the area and circumference of a circle, for example, you might invent a whole story about Mr. C, who drive around Mrs. A and tell her how nice his two pies are , and how her pies are square or some nonsense. But what about the real story? The
*I read this for my math class and this is what I wrote in response:

Here I was thinking this book was going to be some boring math book. Boy, was I wrong! I very much enjoyed this delightful book. I was more enraptured as each page just rolled by in a blur. Occasionally, two people talked back and forth with one asking questions and the other answering. This was surprisingly helpful and I found myself asking these exact same questions before they came up in the conversation.

The theme of this bo
Varad Deshmukh
May 16, 2017 Varad Deshmukh rated it it was amazing
With a lot of free time on my hands, I have been racking my brains on new methods of learning and educating. This is one of those books that arrives in your hands at the right times. Mathematics has always been one of the most dearest subjects to me ever since I remember school -- something which I excelled and loved. This book has shattered my illusions. I was never taught mathematics, I was trained in mathematical formulae and tempered with formalisms and terms without developing intuition. Af ...more
Mar 19, 2017 Cuppy rated it it was amazing
Shelves: funny
The book isn't meant to be comical, and I think what the author stated is entirely true and insightful, but the delivery of the message is theatrical, owed to how strongly the author feels about the subject.
I've laughed so much. I don't know if it's just me that would find this amusing, but based on my experience, I recommend it as a funny read too, not simply educational one.
Feb 13, 2017 Alex rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I just recently wrote that "The Introduction into Mathematical Thinking" makes a good first book for the quest of (re)learning math. We'll, let me make "A Mathematician's Laments" a good 0th book on the same path. It's short, but it is very passionate and inspiring
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Paul Lockhart became interested in mathematics when he was 14 (outside the classroom, he points out). He dropped out of college after one semester to devote himself exclusively to math. Based on his own research he was admitted to Columbia, received a PhD, and has taught at major universities, including Brown University and UC Santa Cruz. Since 2000 he has dedicated himself to "subversively" teach ...more
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“It is the story that matters not just the ending.” 82 likes
“No mathematician in the world would bother making these senseless distinctions: 2 1/2 is a "mixed number " while 5/2 is an "improper fraction." They're EQUAL for crying out loud. They are the exact same numbers and have the exact same properties. Who uses such words outside of fourth grade?” 49 likes
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