By Stuart Mitchner
Princeton University Press celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2005, the same year that Peter Dougherty began his illustrious 12-year term as director and British singer songwriter Kate Bush recorded a love song about a man obsessed by “a complete infatuation with the calculation of Pi (π),” the mathematical truth that coincides with the March 14th birthday of Albert Einstein, Princeton’s most renowned citizen.
Bush’s song about a man who loves loves loves his numbers lends a retrospective allure to my mathematically embattled school days, especially when she croons — sensually, caressingly, deliciously — a series of nothing but numbers that become things of beauty as she makes love to “three one four one five nine two six five three five nine” and on into infinity. And when she imagines a “great big circle” of numbers surrounding her pi-infatuated lover, she could be describing the cover of Millions, Billions, Zillions: Defending Yourself in a World of Too Many Numbers, by Princeton professor of computer science Brian W. Kernighan, whose small but numerically mighty book landed on my desk recently along with The Discrete Charm of the Machine: Why the World Became Digital by his computer science colleague at Princeton Ken Steiglitz. Both books are, of course, from Princeton University Press, as is Daniel Kennefick’s No Shadow of a Doubt, timed for the 100th anniversary of the 1919 eclipse “that confirmed Einstein’s Theory of Relativity.” Although Kennefick is a physics professor at the University of Arkansas, he qualifies as a local, his previous books, all about Einstein, having been published by Princeton. more