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In the Dark on the Sunny Side: A Memoir of an Out-of-Sight Mathematician

Larry W. Baggett
MATHEMATICAL ASSOCIATION OF AMERICA 2012, 218 PAGES
PRICE (PAPERBACK) £30.00, ISBN 978-0-883-85581-2

Many will know Professor Lawrence (Larry) Baggett for his work on harmonic analysis, wavelet theory and unitary representations of groups. He is a world leading mathematician and has been for many decades. However, there is something you might not know about Larry, he is blind.

This book serves as Larry’s memoirs, describing everything from his musical exploits and mathematical pursuits, to his personal life. Many of these moments, feelings and activities have been experienced by each of us, and often he describes a professional environment that lots of us are familiar with. However, Larry talks about them from a completely different, and in many cases, unique position.

Larry lost his sight after an accident with a paring knife at the age of five. But this did not hold him back; he went on to be the first blind student in the Orlando public school system, the first admitted to Davidson College, and the first taken on as a doctoral student in mathematics at the University of Washington. Larry is a teacher, and this exudes throughout the book, he never misses an opportunity to educate. Whether this be description and explanation of fun, classic, maths problems that crop up in anecdotes or some of the remarkable connections between mathematics and music. There is also considerable explanation of how Larry actually accomplishes a number of ‘everyday’ tasks, such as how Braille works, and how he reads, and writes, music.

The book is written for the layman, and as such does not really delve into Larry’s own research in any great detail. There are a couple of paragraphs of basic description towards the end but it is more of an autobiography of a blind man growing up in mid 20th century America, pushing boundaries, than that of a world class mathematician.

Throughout, this is a heart-warming and humorous book which I would recommend to all those who enjoy (auto) biographies. Larry’s passions and interests are clear - music, maths and his family - and this is a great account of a fascinating life.

Sean Elvidge AMIMA

Book review published directly onto IMA website (October 2013)