May 09, 2005

Louis Leithold, Malibu High, and Infinity

I don't claim to be a Calculus expert but I did take about 94 years' worth of it in college. Give or take.

My youngest brother - who never took an interest in the sciences in school, but who now can't get enough of Nova programs and the Discovery channel - this brother and I, often discuss the history and significance of physics and math, biology, black holes and string theory, and beer and of course the famous mathematician John Forbes Nash's game-theory hypothesis on bagging the hottest girl at the bar. Actually, bagging one of her friends. All the stuff brothers chat about, right?

One day we were just glossing over the basics of The Calculus (actually I'm sure we were just scheming some trick bar bets), and we got around to the paradox of getting halfway to a goal each successive step in a series of steps, and ultimately never getting there. Repeating the process infinitely gets you infinitely close so you have finally in essence "arrived". As they say in The Calculus, "close enough". No, really, that's what they say. I've heard them.

Louis Leithold, or perhaps we should just call him Dr. Calculus, last week finally took that last half-step toward the end of his full life.

n = infinity, the equation is solved.

I haven't looked up a list of all the pseudo-mathematical quasi-journalistic smarmy phrases for announcing the passing of a Calculus legend, but that ought to suffice for now. "Close enough."

I was going to say something about how I thought we used Leithold's Calculus book in my college courses, but then I remembered that I was "studying", as they call it at UCSD, under Al "Mr. Exciting" Shenk, and coincidentally we had to constantly purchase the newest version of "Calculus and Analytical Geometry" written by Al "Mr. Sizzle" Shenk himself. A grand coincidence, to be sure.

So, back to Louis Leithold. He wrote "The Calculus", which is considered, in all of its editions, to the be the quintessential writing on the subject, and far superior to that of Al "Do The Hustle" Shenk. Not to disparage Al "One-More-Beer-Bong-And-I'll-Let-"n"-Equal-Anything-You-Want, Dog" Shenk, but I'm on a roll here and I can't seem to stop.

Back again, to Louis Leithold. The man loved teaching, loved the subject, loved the art of it, to the point of working nearly for free, past the age of 80, at Malibu High School long after a distinguished college professorship spanning over half a century. He taught AP Calculus and cajoled his students to mind-bogglingly high AP Test Scores (mind boggling even for Math Majors, go figure). Come to think of it, we're talking high AP Calculus scores at Malibu High. Mind boggling.

Dang, ok, really, back to Louis Leithold. Apparently, if you've met him, you're a better person for it. That's a great reputation to leave behind.

His Math Text Was the Standard, His Touch in Class Exceptional


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