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The Calculus of Friendship: What a Teacher and a Student Learned about Life While Corresponding about Math

3.77  ·  Rating details ·  300 ratings  ·  50 reviews
The Calculus of Friendship is the story of an extraordinary connection between a teacher and a student, as chronicled through more than thirty years of letters between them. What makes their relationship unique is that it is based almost entirely on a shared love of calculus. For them, calculus is more than a branch of mathematics; it is a game they love playing together, ...more
Hardcover, 184 pages
Published August 1st 2009 by Princeton University Press (first published July 5th 2009)
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Oct 02, 2009 rated it it was amazing
[As always, I rarely post my reviews of math books here because they are written for a mathy audience. That said, I loved this book so much I want to rave about it to anyone I can. It was wonderful:]

Anyone who has spent a significant amount of time as an educator knows about the special relationship that can develop between a teacher and a student, which can be especially striking when the relationship evolves and the student becomes the teacher. I know that I have former teachers -- as well as
Aug 29, 2020 rated it liked it
Shelves: sy-19-20
It's a short and wholesome book, but it could have been just as effective as a 5-10 YouTube video. It's about Steven's letters to his former math teacher, Mr. Joffray. They exchange math problems and short blips of news, usually preferring math over more devastating news (death of a family member or divorce). Corresponding about math helped them through the hard bits of life, but Steven wanted to know more about Joffray as a person. I'm afraid that the math was a little too prevailing and a whol ...more
Jul 05, 2016 rated it really liked it
The math was beyond me even though I teach intro calculus.
The message of friendship, caring, and looking beyond yourself is life changing.
Jason Pryde
Apr 29, 2019 rated it liked it
Some of the reviews for this book indicated that understanding the math was not a requirement for reading and enjoying this book.
That may be so, but if you remove all of the math problems from the text, the remainder is mostly the author kicking himself for poor social skills and lacking a spine as he rarely makes a decision without confiding in his mother or a brother. .

My undergraduate calculus skills were never profound in the first place and are now pretty much extinct almost forty years l
May 02, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Interesting math, some that is beyond me and I will be excited in the future once I can comprehend it. (I'm taking three math courses online this summer!) I liked reading about the relationship between a student who becomes a professor with his high school calculus teacher after they surprisingly reignite contact with lots of letters of calculus problems many years after Strogatz graduates. I definitely want to spend more time talking to math professors beyond just listening to them in lectures, ...more
Aug 18, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Wonderful book. The author, an applied mathematician, writes about his correspondence with his High School teacher. The correspondence is mostly about Calculus problems. It includes some really wonderful solutions, such as a relativity-inspired solution to a problem involving dogs chasing each other. But the book is also about life and how time passes. It's beautifully written and for those of us that enjoy math, it has many great ideas.

I was impressed with the organization. The topics for each
Shane Orr
Aug 04, 2019 rated it it was ok
This tells the fascinating story of a student and teacher who wrote occasional letters back and forth to each other about calculus for over 30 years. What’s interesting is that Strogatz only had Joffray for his junior year and didn’t really have a close relationship with him even then. But, for some reason, sent him that first letter about a calculus problem during his freshman year of college. I really wanted to like this book, but the letters were way too deep into the actual calculus and pret ...more
Ehsan Misaghi
Aug 19, 2019 rated it it was amazing
The Calculus of Friendship is an interesting book. I love calculus and math, so the problems discussed through the letters in the book were very interesting to me. However, the more interesting aspect of the book was the development of a friendship between a student-turned-teacher and a teacher-turned-student. Some of the struggles the author went through and the awkwardness when the relationship shifted towards more of a friendship is something a lot of us struggle with. It's a very easy to rea ...more
Oct 09, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: teaching, biography, math
I really appreciated how this book did not sanitize the math involved. I couldn't follow most of it. (ok, maybe I could have followed it, but I'm lazy and that would have taken me about 100 times longer to read this book). But the important lessons of the book really shine through. There isn't enough communication in this world about those ordinary people who had a positive impact on our lives. Strogatz was able to tell us about one of these people in this little book and also to show the reader ...more
Jul 14, 2017 rated it really liked it
The relationship that was developed between teacher and student is wonderful to see through the letters and commentary that Strogatz provides. I wish that more of the letters were included, but understand how the personal nature of the letters would have led from excluding them. The math included is wonderful for someone like myself (a fellow high school math teacher) who has not seen these ideas before or it has been awhile since I last saw them.
Apr 19, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2019
Male expression and all the ways of expressing intimacy and demonstrating fellowship but without actually saying it. Despite studying calculus some years ago, I jumped through the calculus example pages, it grew tiring after awhile.
Nick Woodall
Sep 03, 2019 rated it really liked it
I liked this little book, even though I really didn't understand all the math in it. I would like to have had more touchy-feely writing about these two guys, but I guess mathematicians aren't that emotional. ...more
Aug 19, 2020 rated it it was amazing
This is how a teacher should be, not just able to give students facts but who is also able to inspire and let students learn outside the classroom. Their correspondence was both intellectual and personal, a rare kind of friendship born from a teacher-student relationship.
May 17, 2020 rated it really liked it
Jun 10, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Interesting reading even though I often got lost in the proofs.
Robin Neupane
Jun 15, 2020 rated it really liked it
Interesting book about Mathematicians and their thinking. Looking forward to reading another book by the same author: Infinite Powers.
Oct 13, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: math, non-fiction, memoir
I'm familiar with Steven Strogatz from being an avid Radiolab listener, so I have anxiously awaited The Calculus of Friendship. It's a beautiful, poignant story of the intense, special, and evolving relationship between student & teacher. It is also an amazing writing accomplishment that successfully combines math and memoir. While I can't say that I completely understand all the math, the mathematics only adds to this story rather than detracting from it. It shows the true elegance & beauty of ...more
Mar 08, 2011 rated it really liked it
This book is admittedly quite short, but still, I can't remember the last time I finished a book in 2 days. (This _would_ have happened with Harry Potter 7 but it was not short enough for that to be physically possible for me.)

On its face, this book is RIGHT UP MY ALLEY. Mathematical and human in equal parts. The premise is that the author, Steven Strogatz, a distinguished mathematician (dynamical systems and such), has carried on a 30-year correspondence with his high school calculus teacher Do
May 17, 2010 rated it it was ok
This is the story of the author's friendship with his high school calculus teacher, Don Joffray. Over the course of 30 years, they maintain a correspondence based mostly on their love of math, sharing interesting puzzles and solutions with one another. Before long, the pupil has surpassed the teacher, and their roles reverse.

My husband has math friendships like the one portrayed here, and I chose this book for that aspect. I was hoping for a lot more relationship and a little less math. I could
Aperna Deb
Oct 06, 2013 rated it really liked it
The book goes down the mathematical life of Prof. Steven Strogatz, a renowned applied mathematician currently at Cornell University, and his correspondence with Don Joffray, his math teacher from high school. In a collection of 10 or so chapters covering various phases of Strogatz's career, the author reproduces his letters with Joff, as he is affectionatedly called, which mainly comprise of little gems of mathematical results.
Some of them which I enjoyed are:

1. The evaluation of \sum_{k=1}^\i
Feb 06, 2012 rated it it was amazing
"But now I also see that I did learn something from him, something profoundly mathematical, about how to live. From his hobbies to the way he faces ups and downs in his life... He rolls with it and tries to make peace with it. And where he can, he even plays with it. Jazz piano, windsurfing, whitewater kayaking - all of these balance the inevitable against the unforeseeable, the two sides if change in this world. The orderly and the chaotic. The changes that calculus can tame, and the ones it ca ...more
Feb 26, 2010 rated it did not like it
Recommends it for: The Mathy Set
The math was far, far over my head, but that hardly ever detracts from my enjoyment of a book. However this book, which appeared from the blurbs to be a collection of letters, was actually more of a collection of math problems. The author was pretty honest about what a clueless jerk he was for much of the time period the book covers, but his honesty didn't make me like him any better. I wonder if there's a lot left out of this book, or if he really is a guy so mathy that he doesn't see anything ...more
Jul 04, 2012 rated it liked it
Shelves: science
A great book for math people (like me) and teachers (also me) and anyone who has always felt that nagging feeling that they have let a relationship fade away for no reason other than a general sense of being busy (me again). Told via a series of letters, the book traces the relationship between a calculus teacher and a former student. They mostly communicate through calculus problems, but as they both get older and their lives change (and diminish towards an end point, which is ironically how ca ...more
May 17, 2012 rated it really liked it
In The Calculus of Friendship, the author, Steven Strogatz narrates the epistolary relationship he maintained with his maths high school teacher for 30 years. Their letters contained a lot of math which what kept them close to each other but there's also this very touching side of their inadequacy to get to a more personal level. I really enjoy reading it.

Dans le Calcul de l'amitie, l'auteur, Steven Strogatz narre la relation epistolaire qu'il a maintenue avec son prof de maths au lycee pendant
Will Schwalbe
Sep 20, 2009 rated it it was amazing
I was privileged to edit this author's first trade book, SYNC. And I'm also in the acknowledgments for this one. So I'm biased. But I still think this is an amazing book about the lifelong friendship between a math teacher and his student. There is a ton of formulas in this book -- they were really corresponding about math. But you can also read this book and just ignore the math and get a huge amount out of it. It's a love story -- a teacher for his prize student, a student for a beloved teache ...more
Jan 02, 2010 rated it liked it
Only rarely do I find a book that mentions mathematics in the title that Jessica actually wants to read. After hearing Steve talk about the book on an NPR program, and then hearing him read from it at one of the downtown bookstores, she was sold. The reason, of course, is that for her, the book was mostly about the evolution of a friendship of mathematical conversations between a teacher and a student. Ultimately, that turned out to be the main attraction for me as well -- I have a couple friend ...more
Feb 26, 2010 rated it liked it
This deceptively simple tale of a student's correspondence with his high school teacher about calculus problems turns into a meditation on life, growth, aging, relationships. Strogatz is brutally honest about his own shortcomings in this friendship, but it clearly meant enough to him that it outlasted his first marriage. Gratifying to see him learn to open up to a deeper degree of friendship and go beyond the math. I give it three stars in part because my own Calculus classes are so far behind m ...more
Mar 30, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: mathematics
Heartbreaking memoir about the friendship between two men who seemed to have nothing in common but their love of calculus. As the years go by, it becomes increasingly unclear who is teaching whom. In the end, I'd say it was Steven Strogatz who, even though he was the better mathematician, had the most to learn. ...more
Kyle Hart
Dec 08, 2009 rated it it was ok
This was much more calculus than friendship. It reads like it was written by a math person. The radio ditty I heard about it was much more entertaining than the book. I would recommend it to folks who are much more excited about math than I am.
Vilém Zouhar
Jul 18, 2015 rated it liked it
Touching and well written book consisting mostly of letters about a relationship of a student (later teacher) and a professor about mathematics. The book is full of personal remarks about life and mathematics exercises which were interesting, but sometimes too tough and not adequately explained.
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Steven Strogatz is the Schurman Professor of applied mathematics at Cornell University. A renowned teacher and one of the world’s most highly cited mathematicians, he has been a frequent guest on National Public Radio’s Radiolab. Among his honors are MIT's highest teaching prize, membership in the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and a lifetime achievement award for communication of math to ...more

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“Yet in another way, calculus is fundamentally naive, almost childish in its optimism. Experience teaches us that change can be sudden, discontinuous, and wrenching. Calculus draws its power by refusing to see that. It insists on a world without accidents, where one thing leads logically to another. Give me the initial conditions and the law of motion, and with calculus I can predict the future -- or better yet, reconstruct the past. I wish I could do that now.
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