I’m delighted to share the news that I wrote an article that appears in this month’s (November 2012) issue of Smithsonian, the one with a picture of Abraham Lincoln on the cover.

One of the regular departments in Smithsonian is called “Phenomenon.” In it they invite writers to write short essays on a topic that the editors choose each month. This month the theme was beauty.

It is far from obvious that you would ask a math and science writer to discuss beauty, and so I have to give a huge amount of credit to my editor. She had gotten some of the Princeton University Press’s publicity earlier this year about my book, The Universe in Zero Words, and even though Smithsonian didn’t review the book, my name somehow stuck in her mind.

When she contacted me and asked if I’d like to write an article about what beauty means in mathematics, I could scarcely believe it. First, to be asked to write about a subject that is so near and dear to me! This was like asking Sheldon on “The Big Bang Theory” to write an editorial on why string theory is so great. Let’s see, where shall I begin?

Second, to be asked to write about it for Smithsonian! This is one of the most difficult magazines to break into, and it’s particularly appealing to a science writer because they have serious and substantial science articles mixed in with other articles on history and art and culture, you name it. It gives me a chance to reach a different audience from the ones that read pure science magazines. This was only the second article that I have written for them, after several unsuccessful queries.

Writing the article was absolutely a piece of cake… up to a point. I could easily have written three or four pages, but I was strictly limited to one. Also, there was a little problem that came up literally a couple days before the article was supposed to go to press: the top editor (my editor’s boss) wanted me to put something in the article that I absolutely refused to. Fortunately I was able to persuade him that it would be a mistake. But I think it was a close call, so it was a big relief when the article went through more or less as I originally wrote it.

So, I hope you enjoy it! I think my favorite part of the article was writing this sentence: “To get a taste of mathematical beauty, begin by heading to your favorite pub and ordering a frosty mug of beer.” I think everything else in the article sort of pales next to that line!  😎


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