Madison authors, topics, book events and publishers
It’s the most wonderful time of the year, time for the Wisconsin Book Festival, 28 events this week alone, both in-person and online, and Stu Levitan welcomes one of the featured presenters, and one of the brightest stars in the firmament that is the University of Wisconsin faculty, Professor Jordan Ellenberg, to discuss his NYTimes best-seller, Shape: The Hidden Geometry of Information, Biology, Strategy, Democracy, and Everything Else. Prof. Ellenberg will be appearing this Saturday at 3 o’clock at the Discovery Building, 330 N Orchard St., so Stu thought it would be a good idea to dial up an encore presentation of our conversation from this past July.
As coined by the ancient Greeks, “geometry” literally means “measuring the world,” and the world which Jordan Ellenberg measures in Shape is wide and far-flung indeed. Gerrymandering, the tv show Survivor, Abraham Lincoln, pandemics and flitting mosquitoes, artificial intelligence, even an answer to the question ‘how many holes in a straw’? And it’s an accessible world – yes, there are symbols and equations, and you’re welcome to have pad and paper with you as you read, but the book is mainly a narrative built on stories and people.
Jordan Ellenberg was not a late-bloomer. The son of two biostatisticians, he taught himself to read at age two by watching Sesame Street, he was competing in high school math competitions while in the fourth grade, and four years later he was taking honors calculus at the University of Maryland. At 17, he beat out 400,000 North American high school students to win the USA Mathematical Olympiad, and over a 3-year period took two golds and a silver at the International Mathematical Olympiad.
He took his BA and Ph D at Harvard, with a masters from Johns Hopkins in creative writing in between, then started his academic career at Princeton. He came to the University of Wisconsin in 2005, made full professor in 2011, was named a Vilas Distinguished Achievement Professor in 2014 and since 2015 has been the John D MacArthur Professor of Mathematics.
His previous books include How Not To Be Wrong: The Power of Mathematical Thinking in 2014 and the novel The Grasshopper King. He also has a credited cameo in the 2017 movie Gifted in the role of math professor, giving him a Kevin Bacon degree of separation of two and making him one of the extraordinarily small and select group of people with an Erdos/Bacon number. He maintains a blog Quomodocumque.wordpress.com and tweets at JSEllenberg. It is a great pleasure to welcome to MBB Professor Jordan Ellenberg.