Faculty Reading Recommendations
Marjorie Senechal, Louise Wolff Kahn Professor Emerita in Mathematics and History of Science and Technology
Professor Senechal's fields of interest include: history of science and technology, discrete geometry and mathematical crystallography. Her books include Shaping Space, Crystalline Symmetries, Quasicrystals and Geometry and Long Life to Your Children! a Portrait of High Albania, and American Silk. She is working on a biography of former Smith College physics professor Dorothy Wrinch. She has been the editor of the MAA book series Carus Mathematical Monographs and is co-editor-in-chief of the Mathematical Intelligencer. Professor Senechal has made research trips to France, Czechoslovakia, the Netherlands, Brazil, the Philippines and the Soviet Union. In 1982, she won the Carl B. Allendoerfer Award of the Mathematical Association of America and in 2008 she received the Millia Davenport Publication Award of the Costume Society of America. She is formerly the director of the Kahn Institute. For more information see Professor Senechal’s website.
Here are Professor Senechal's responses to our questions:
Q. What are three books in your field that you feel are most helpful/interesting for lay readers who want to learn more?
A. This question gives me pause: there are lots of good books in my field, but not many for lay readers. Besides, I have wandered around in several fields; I’m not sure which is “mine”!
- For an introduction to some of the mathematics I’ve researched, the best is probably Martin Gardner’s Penrose Tiles to Trapdoor Ciphers (W. H. Freeman, 1989).
- The book that first lured me into crystallography was Crystals, Their Role in Nature and Science by Charles Bunn. It’s out of print but internet used-book sellers still stock it.
- My favorite account of what it’s like to be a mathematician and why someone might like being one is G. H. Hardy’s classic, A Mathematician’s Apology.
Q. What books have influenced your life?
A. Though I grew up in Kentucky, I had no family roots there (my parents were New Yorkers.) I learned about Kentucky and its people from school, summer camp and books.
- The book about Kentucky I treasure most, and that turned me toward teaching, is Jesse Stuart’s autobiographical The Thread That Runs So True.
- About the same time, I read Nehru’s prison letters to his ten year old daughter Indira, published as Glimpses of World History. In those 993 pages I glimpsed a brilliant mind and a vast and ancient civilization. I also learned that Alexander the Great was not considered great by those he conquered.
Q. What are you reading now?