Oh blogosphere, I miss you so! There are so many cool science-y items and fascinating debates to tempt me away from the task at hand, and I hate being cut off from it all for so long, but I must stay the course and finish The Damn Book, as it has come to be known. (Yes, I have reached the dark night of the writer's soul, but we shall overcome.) I'm nearly done, the manuscript is due September 18, and after that, I will return to blogging (and life in general) in full force, rather than the intermittent appearances I've been making for the last few months. In the meantime, we've been debating two options for The Damn Book's eventual title, and I figure, why not let my readers weigh in?

1. *The Calculus Diaries*. This was my original title, way back in the book proposal stage. It's direct, high-concept, and captures the nature of the book pretty well -- i.e., it's about me learning calculus by seeking it out in the real world. The question is, does putting "calculus" right there, front and center, turn off the potential general reader (as opposed to those who are already mathematically inclined)?

2. *Dangerous Curves: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Calculus*. This is the current working title. It's clever, playing on the "area under the curve"/"face of the function" aspects of calculus; and it's more subtle in its appeal to the general reader. However, it might be a little TOO clever, in that it's not as immediately apparent what the book is about. You kinda have to know a wee bit about calculus already to get the title.

I could go either way at this point, so feel free to cast your vote in the comments, with a brief explanation as to why you'd make that choice.

I have also reached that point of the writing process where I must sum up my conclusions/lessons learned from the long journey into calculus, and condense it into a compelling, readable epilogue. Much soul-searching has taken place during the last couple of years. I have talked to dozens of people (scientists, educators, my fellow "mathogynists") about their attitudes towards math (calculus in particular), how it is taught, how they learned it (assuming they did), etc., and compared it to my own experience. Here are some of my random musings thus far (much of which probably will not end up in the book, although it all feeds into the final product).

First, where does this knee-jerk dislike of math come from? Two years later, I can only say, who the hell knows? There is no one single factor, as far as I can tell. For many people, their struggles with math set in with high school algebra. Co-blogger Allyson performed so well in her other high school subjects that she was placed in advanced math classes. Alas, she was ill-prepared for that level, and the placement set her up for failure. “I distinctly recall the humiliation of my eyes welling in frustration at algebra,” she said. By the time her friends were taking calculus, Allyson had been demoted to what one might charitably call “math for dummies,” learning how to calculate compound interest and how to do her taxes – useful skills, no doubt, but she remains haunted by the memory of her failure.

Another co-blogger, Lee, had a similar experience, with more dire consequences: her inability to grasp algebra – despite top grades in all her other classes -- kept her from becoming a marine biologist, and she has a visceral hatred of mathematics to this day. “It wrecked my self-confidence in a way nothing else ever did, and still knots my stomach,” she told me. “I’m not totally innumerate, but anything that looks like an equation makes me break out into a cold sweat and run screaming in the other direction.”(My bloggy buddy Brian over at Laelaps has written extensively about his struggles with math, which keep getting in the way of his desire to be a scientist.)

On the surface, at least, I have no good reason for my own negative reaction to mathematical symbols. I did very well in my high school geometry and algebra classes, yet somehow I never self-identified as someone with a penchant for math. The truth is that fear and loathing in math class does not necessarily arise from a lack of aptitude, but from a belief in a lack of aptitude. Where did I acquire that belief?

No doubt part of it stems from gender bias. There is a well-documented prejudice against women in math and science dating back thousands of years, although history gives us the rare exceptions, such as the plucky Sophie Germain. The century before, a French noblewoman named Emilie du Chatelet translated Newton's *Principia* and became the lover of Voltaire before dying in childbirth in her early 40s. Victorian England had Mary Somerville, another self-taught female mathematician who defied the cultural stereotypes of her age. Her passion for math was so strong, she was revising a paper the day before she died at 92.

Such women often have been dismissed as mere statistical anomalies, but evidence is mounting that there is, in fact, no innate difference in the mathematical ability of girls and boys. Any gap in performance is due primarily to sociological factors. This is a controversial statement, as evidenced by the heated comment threads that ensue whenever someone in the blogosphere dares to bring up the touchy subject of women in math (and science). We would prefer to believe that the overt sexism experienced by Sophie Germain *et al* are a thing of the past, and simply not an issue in this enlightened age, but the reality is that these attitudes persist. Women have come forth with innumerable horror stories ranging from mere discouragement to overt sexual harassment.

A geometry teacher tells the entire class that the girls would probably do the worst in his course because they lacked spatial reasoning ability. A guidance counselor shunts female students into “practical math” classes where they learn how many ham slices each guest would need at a wedding. A physics professor insists on checking his female students’ work before they can leave the lab, yet doesn’t feel the need to check the work of his male students. A computer science professor dismisses any questions from female students as “lazy little girl whining.” And a calculus teacher thinks it’s perfectly appropriate to measure his female students’ bodies and use those measurements as part of his volume calculations in class. One woman on a comment thread over at Tiny Cat Pants last year told of her high school math teacher who made the three female students sit in the front row, “because girls have a harder time with math than boys do.” It was really a flimsy excuse to ogle their cleavage and brush his crotch up against them suggestively during exams. Quoth the commenter: “Guess which three people in that class were not about to be stuck in a basement computer lab with that dude?”

While I have no doubt those things happened (and still do), I never experienced anything so horrific; my math teachers were kind and, if not openly encouraging, they certainly were not discouraging or hostile, nor was I ever sexually harassed. My parents were supportive of my intellectual pursuits, if a bit bemused by my headier inclinations. Nobody ever told me explicitly that girls weren’t as good as boys at math, yet somehow I absorbed that message anyway. Carol Tavris, a cognitive psychologist and author of several popular books (*The Mismeasure of Woman* should be mandatory reading for young women), explained to me that there are subtle, situational social cues that seep into our consciousness, like osmosis, even if we never encounter overt negative messaging about gender.

The phenomenon is known in psychological circles as stereotype threat, and it has been confirmed in more than 100 scientific articles. For example, a 2007 study in *Psychological Science* found that female math majors who viewed a video of a conference with more men than women reported feeling less desire to participate in the conference, and less of a sense of belonging, than female math majors who viewed a gender-balanced version of the video. The male math majors were immune to those subtle situational cues.

That’s stereotype threat in a nutshell. The 2004 film *Mean Girls* perfectly captures the subtle influence of cultural factors. Home-schooled in Africa for most of her early life by her anthropologist parents, Cady (played by Lindsay Lohan) didn’t absorb the subliminal message that women can’t do math, or that liking the subject is uncool – in fact, she appreciates the universality of math, because “it’s the same in every country.” Then she begins attending a regular high school and the inevitable peer pressure kicks in. She is urged by her peers not to join the high school math team (“It’s social suicide!”), and pretends to be bad at math to win over the cute boy in her calculus class. This being a movie, she gets over it, and ends up copping to her love of math and snagging the cutest boy in school. Alas, peer pressure doesn’t excuse me, either. I was a painfully shy, socially awkward, brainy sort in high school, and pretending suddenly to be bad at math would not have transformed me magically into the homecoming queen.

Tavris also cited our fascination in the US with the notion of innate ability. We are born with certain built-in talents, this reasoning goes; you either have a gift for math, or you don’t, and no amount of hard work can make up for that lack of innate ability. The reality is much more complicated. My friend Deborah self-identified as being good at math early on in her education. Her fourth-grade teacher held multiplication table competitions in class. Deborah was highly competitive, so she worked very hard on memorizing her multiplication tables and practicing at home. As a result, she excelled in these competitions and became known as being “good at math.” This had a significant impact on her later on: whenever she struggled with an especially tough problem, she pushed through, thinking, “I should be able to do this because I’m good at math.” Yet her belief in her innate ability, and success at math, were actually the product of a lot of hard work.

Another part of the problem has to be the way the subject matter is presented and/or taught. Guest blogger Alex Morgan offered a clue when it wrote about his own daughter's ambivalence towards math, despite having a certain aptitude for the subject. She just doesn't like it! And after perusing her math homework, Alex found he didn't much blame her. The material was dry, uninspiring, and completely divorced from any real-world experience. (Hence my use of real-world environments in which I seek out possible calculus problems in The Damn Book.)

Students need to feel inspired, particularly when it comes to a difficult subject. While I was at the Kavli Institute for Theoretical Physics last year as journalist in residence, I got to know UC-Santa Barbara mathematician Bisi Agboola, who generously shared his own story with me. Bisi was educated in the UK and failed most of his math classes through their equivalent of high school. “I found it dull, confusing and difficult.” As a child, he was determined to find a career where he wouldn’t need any math, finally announcing to his skeptical parents that he would be a woodcutter. He was crushed when they pointed out that he would need to measure the wood.

But one summer he encountered a Time-Life book on mathematics –- *Mathematics* by David Bergamini -– that offered “an account of the history of some of the main ideas of mathematics, from the Babylonians up until the 1960s, and it captured my imagination and made the subject come alive to me for the very first time.” It changed his mind about this seemingly dry subject. He realized there was beauty in it. He wound up teaching himself calculus, and told me he is convinced most physicists also do this. Today he is a PhD mathematician specializing in number theory, and exotic multidimensional topologies. Ironically, he still doesn’t much like basic arithmetic: “I find it boring.”

Some students respond well to how calculus (and physics) is traditionally taught, others don't. The Spousal Unit sent me a link to a fairly new blog called Gravity and Levity, written by a physicist with a way with words:

*For those of us who immediately liked physics class in high school, physics was a game. It was like a little logic puzzle where the rules of the game were given to you (usually on a formula sheet) and you were asked to use them cleverly to come up with a solution. A friend of mine once put it succinctly: “Physics is all about finding out which variables you know and which variable you want, and then searching through your formula sheet for an equation that has all of those letters in it.” That, more or less, was the physics game. You rearrange some symbols on a paper and you come up with an answer. Instant gratification.*

*Those of us who went on to study physics in college almost invariably did so because we liked the game. I personally loved it, and I was good at it. But as I went further into physics, it began to be more than a game. Little by little, all the equations and “rules of the game” started coming together into a coherent perspective on the universe and how it works. ... Over years of study my interest in physics gradually but completely shifted from “the game is fun” to “I want to know how to think about what the universe is made of and how it works.”*

I hated the game; I couldn't really see the point -- at least until I got interested in physics and realized that calculus was relevant to my world. I'm one of those people who really needs to understand the context, and the "why" of things. (Although I must admit to a fondness for word games. I killed at Boggle and Scrabble in college.)

The point is, different people learn in different ways, and that makes coming up with a standardized educational system particularly challenging. The best model I heard about was from a woman scientist I met at a party, whose daughter went to an elite private school on the East Coast. There were several teachers for each subject, and students could transfer out of a class if the teaching style didn't agree with them, and try another instructor. The daughter's attitude towards her history class did an about-face once she found an instructor who inspired her. Just like science communication, learning (and teaching) science, or any subject, is about making that critical connection. I just don't see how it would be possible to scale up that approach to a nation-wide level; there's a reason this system was implemented at a pricey private school.

So: stereotype threat, gender bias, peer pressure, bad teaching, poor subject presentation -- all of these play a role in discouraging people (especially those of the female persuasion) from taking/liking math. There are countless efforts worldwide to combat these sweeping socio-cultural factors, and we should continue to fight the good fight in that regard. That said, Sophie Germain and Mary Somerville didn't let socio-cultural factors keep them from pursuing their love of math. What made the difference? Personal mentorship helped at some point, but it started with inspiration and falling in love with the subject in the first place.

Ultimately, when I closely examine my dubious history with math, I can't really cast too much blame on those Big Picture factors for my prolonged ignorance/avoidance of math. They discouraged me because I let them discourage me -- because I wanted an excuse to avoid calculus. I can't say I was intellectually lazy, because I avidly pursued knowledge in any subject that caught my interest, and worked very hard in those areas. Like Alex's daughter, I just wasn't all that interested, and hence was more than happy to be pushed away from math and science. What is the cure for willful ignorance and very deliberate avoidance?

I'm not sure there was a single game-changing moment, since the process of thawing towards math was gradual. It started with going to work for The American Physical Society, then becoming a science writer specializing in physics. And one day, out of curiosity, I asked a physicist named Alan Chodos (associate executive officer of the APS) about why objects fall at the same rate regardless of mass -- it seemed really counter-intuitive to me, although I had no doubt it was true. He insisted that I didn't have to take the matter on faith, and walked me (kicking and screaming) through the basic algebraic equation. Suddenly the numbers had relevance to something I'd actually experienced. And my kneejerk defenses started lowering bit by bit. I can't say I love math and calculus, but I understand the basics now, and I no longer break into a cold sweat at the sight of an equation. Believe me, that's tremendous progress.

It just goes to show that real learning is personal and individual. A good teacher can change someone's life and undo years of willful ignorance. I owe Alan a great debt, I realized. The least I can do is say thank you in public.

My own anecdote is that in high school I always did very well (above 95th percentile on standardized tests) in all subjects except math (30-something percentile). My high school math classes were all boring as can be, and I failed high school algebra once. I was totally innumerate. Five years later when I started college (didn't go directly from high school to college) I wanted to do something related to astronomy, but the obvious path was a physics undergrad degree and that meant lots of math. Our physics degree closely paralleled the (much less mathy) general physical science degree for the first year or so, so I figured I'd at least give it a shot and had the option of bailing out to the general degree. When I took my first (algebra based) physics course the professor made it interesting by presenting it to us like the little logic/physics game. I'm not sure when exactly it happened, but I started to 'get' math. Now the kid who failed basic algebra and scored in the lower third of his peers can do vector calculus. I can't believe I almost let it choose my career path. I realize my biggest obstacle back then was myself, every time I told myself 'I can't do math' I set myself up for exactly that. If I had to guess, it was mostly due to uninspired high school math classes and the all-pervasive 'math is super hard and only smarties can do it'. Changing cultural attitudes toward math is therefore something personally interesting for me.

I lean toward 'The Calculus Diaries', but then I'm just the sort of person who doesn't get turned off by a mathy title, right?

Posted by: Jason A. | August 08, 2009 at 03:35 AM

Have you read any of Albert Bandura's work on self-efficacy? A lot of what you've written (re: psychological factors, social experiences, prior experience of success) is dealt with in his research.

Like Jason, I vote for "The Calculus Diaries" but I'm a math teacher so it doesn't throw me. Is the second title too long for a subtitle?

Posted by: Rich M. | August 08, 2009 at 09:22 AM

Hi Jennifer,

I'm glad you to hear that you liked the blog. I never envisioned myself as a "physicist with a way with words" -- sounds like a high compliment to me.

I personally vote for "Dangerous Curves". It's a little bombastic, maybe... but that's the way Calculus felt to me: dangerous and exciting. I seem to be unlike much of your readership and target audience, though. I had a strong dislike for math UNTIL algebra. From then on I was hooked.

If you're curious, the beginning of this post has a few paragraphs about my personal history with Calculus: https://gravityandlevity.wordpress.com/2009/08/05/the-path-integral-calculating-the-future-from-an-unknown-past/

Posted by: gravityandlevity | August 08, 2009 at 12:03 PM

Why 'the' Calculus?

Posted by: theoreticalminimum | August 08, 2009 at 12:31 PM

I'm in favor of Dangerous Curves, mostly because I wrote a fanfic with that title many years ago and it has the honor(?) of being my most plagiarized story. :-)

Cheers,

Erica

Hungry for Yuri? Have some Okazu!

https://okazu.blogspot.com

Posted by: Erica | August 08, 2009 at 01:05 PM

Either title you list is fine. I'm slightly inclined against "Dangerous Curves" - not because it is a poor title, but because you never did learn to LOVE the Calculus.

Alternatively, you could go with something edgier - something that conveys how you really feel:

"Looking for Calculus in All the Wrong Places."

"Fear and Loathing in The Calculus"

"Nausea: The Calculus"

(with apologies to Jennings, Hunter, and Satre)

:-)

-Brent

Posted by: Brent Gilstrap | August 08, 2009 at 02:17 PM

My relationship with math was always love-hate. On the one hand, I did pretty well in algebra, geometry, and statistics in high school, and even liked them to an extent. On the other hand, these classes were so much more challenging than my other classes that I felt it wasn't fair. Sure, it was simple enough to memorize rules and methods--and that's how I did well in these classes. But these classes seemed much deeper than the others, and I didn't get them like I 'got' biology, for instance.. which was frustrating. And my teachers didn't (let alone couldn't) explain these deeper aspects. Which compounded the frustration.

Then I went to college and began studying programming and computer science. I hated it. It was like memorizing rules in high school algebra, but times ten. Calculus happened to be a co-requisite for the class, and I thought I would hate it too. But I kind of liked it after awhile. It made high school algebra make more sense. It had ideas that were really obvious in many ways (limits, etc), but which were completely new and interesting. It didn't seem arbitrary and human-made, like programming seemed. It seemed to capture something fundamental about.. something. And my math professors also LIKED teaching the subject, and LIKED explaining things in more detail if students were interested. It's amazing in retrospect how much the instructor's interest and competence in his or her own subject encourages students to like and become proficient in the subject as well. At least for this student. At the end of this class, I decided to major in math. And even though I was no math genius (by any stretch), and it was challenging, I worked hard, brought myself up to speed, and got my degree. And I did significantly better than most of my peers.

Even though I decided not to go on to graduate school, and I don't use my degree professionally, I still love math and read about it all the time. It's really informed the way I look at the world and the way I think. Sometimes I wish I had had the math epiphany sooner in life. :)

Posted by: Greg | August 08, 2009 at 03:48 PM

Jennifer, I like "Dangerous Curves," but favor removing the "the" from calculus. (My argument would be: Even though that is the right thing to call it among mathematicians, it comes across as highfalutin to the layperson. How often is it called "the calculus" at cocktail parties?) And I agree with Erica that that title will work on your book tours if you do indeed like calculus by the time the book is out!

Hope this is useful.

Posted by: Ben | August 08, 2009 at 04:49 PM

I like The Calculus Diaries. Short and sweet! The Dr. Strangelove reference always struck me as kind of, well, strange. =)

My HS calc textbook was TCWAG (pronounced took-wag), The Calculus With Analytic Geometry. Anything would be better, really...

Posted by: Danna Staaf | August 08, 2009 at 06:24 PM

Ben and theoretical minimum:

I read the "the" as being linked to "diaries".

To put it another way, you start with "the diaries" and add the word "calculus" to say what kind of diaries they are. Thus "The Calculus Diaries".

(Don't have any strong opinion on which title to use.)

Posted by: Michael I | August 09, 2009 at 07:10 AM

Jennifer, I like "The Calculus Diaries." It's more to the point than "Dangerous Curves" and implies the book's serious intent, despite its popular bent. "Diaries" also suggests some sort of journey that you're sharing, and I think that's always intriguing. I think that "Dangerous Curves" has been somewhat overused (345,000 hits on Google).

About being turned off by math: Two things you mentioned seem to me really important. One is context. Math is traditionally taught "context free" and this doesn't make sense to most people, although it does seem to make sense to many mathematicians. The other is the fact that different people learn in different ways. When I was still teaching math in classrooms, I started saying (in my frustration) that math could be tutored but not taught. I could help any student understand one-on-one, but no matter what I did, I couldn't keep he whole class with me.

Maybe an update on my daughter's math journey would be interesting. I bought the book "Math Doesn't Suck," and left it around for Julia to stumble over, but that ploy didn't work. Maybe "math" in the title was a turnoff, so I see your point about having "calculus" in the title. Then, I decided as a last resort to try brute force. I offered to pay her $3 a chapter to let her big brother, Abraham, go through the book with her. He got the same fee. The money was more motivation for Abe than her, but she loves to do anything with her brother. Also, he would be "tutoring" her, something she absolutely will not let me do. Success! They are reading the book, and Abe told me recently that she confessed that she was beginning to like it. I suppose paying might be controversial, but why should she do something she doesn't want to do without some external motivation? Of course, I hope one day she'll see how fascinating it is.

Alex

Posted by: Alex Morgan | August 09, 2009 at 01:36 PM

This thread proves why I love my readers. :) Excellent points all, although it seems you are as divided as I am about the title. It's clear, however, that a better subtitle is needed, regardless of which option we go with. Your input here (and on Facebook) will be duly communicated to my editors, as we hash it out during the editing phase. I do kind of lean towards "Calculus Diaries" at the moment, but I've been vacillating for several weeks now. :) It's that whole "calculus in the title" thing. Poeple really DO hate math that much...

@Alex: I tend to agree with your conclusion that math can be tutored, but not taught in a large class. Certain rote mechanisms can be taught, but that all-important context, and the individual approach to achieve that critical moment of inspiration/insight, are extremely difficult to pull off in large groups. I did a random sampling of physicists of my acquaintance, and Bisi was right: 60-70% of them taught themselves calculus, and/or never really found it fascinating until they took it in a physics context. Which makes sense. Calculus was invented as a tool to help solve specific problems (thank you Isaac Newton and Leibniz), not for purely aesthetic reasons. There's beauty there, to be sure, but it's hard to fully appreciate that without any context.

Posted by: Jennifer Ouellette | August 09, 2009 at 01:57 PM

Also @Alex: And don't feel bad about paying your daughter to work through the chapters of the Danica book! One could argue that I got "paid" to learn calculus, if one counts my modest book advance (which will probably be equivalent to that $3 per chapter by the time I'm done, given the amount of effort put into it). Even grudging acknowledgement of math's importance is a step in the right direction, and while "love" might be too strong a word for me at the moment, I certainly have a renewed appreciation, and growing sense of wonder, at this mysterious world of numbers. Its an entirely different way of looking at the world.

Posted by: Jennifer Ouellette | August 09, 2009 at 02:01 PM

As to Math and innate ability, John Mighton of the JUMP program in Toronto has a lot to say about that, starting (well, probably not *starting*, but it's a good place for *others* to start) with his book The Myth Of Ability which addresses just that point.

Mighton developed the program (JUMP stands for Junior Undiscovered Math Prodigies) on the premise that while there are differences in the way and the speed people (kids in particular) learn math, anyone can learn it, if it's taught correctly. Mighton himself was a 'mathogynist'* who managed to overcome his dislike of math and is now a math professor at the University of Toronto.

I encourage anyone who has math problems - or knows someone with math problems - to check out the program. It may not be for everyone, but how can you know that if you don't find out?

As to the book title, my wife and I both like "Dangerous Curves". I take Ben's point about the word 'the', but I actually disagree. I think it can pique curiosity (" 'The' calculus? What's up with that?") in someone who's already interested. Anyone who's not ... it won't matter.

Wilson

*I love that coinage, despite its etymological difficulties. I assume you intend it to mean a person who dislikes math, but its actual meaning would be (something like) a person who commits ('ist') the study ('math') of women ('gyn').

Posted by: Wilson | August 09, 2009 at 02:26 PM

Go with "The Math diaries"- a little less confrontational without calculus in the title.

Posted by: Lab Lemming | August 09, 2009 at 09:40 PM

After reading some of the comments above I agree that the subtitle needs changing but my vote is with

"dangerous curves"

perhaps dangerous curves: a calculus diary?

Posted by: Prem | August 09, 2009 at 11:00 PM

I loved this post Jennifer and I think it should find it's way into one of the early chapters in the book. BTW it's not the 'Damm Book',don't discount the effort even tho it may have been a lot of effort. It will be a 'Great book', call it that!!

As to leaning math, I agree with many of the posted comments that so much of the process is dependent on the professor and if he loves his subject and makes it exciting for the students. I remember my first try at Integral Equations in college after having passed two semesters of calculus, this joker (professor)who spoke broken English went on the flunk 2/3rd of the class of 25 students. (me included).

Another reason for liking math or hating it is the right brain/left brain syndrome. Don't you think that it may have a large impact? Also the fact that females are more likely to love the languages rather than the sciences, and males the oposite? I may have been good or liked math but I hated English and barely passed those subjects. That's shy I went with Engineering.

Anyway, great post Jen and I'm looking forward to read the final draft. When will it be available?

Posted by: PLO | August 10, 2009 at 12:28 AM

Why shouldn't people get math anxiety ? Heck, it took Hamilton 13 years

to get to ab = -ba , and after 165 years who can say that they

grasp the implications of a(bc) = - (ab)c ???

It's just three letters - what is the problem ? Right ?

But does anyone actually understand what Octonions are about ?

did I miss a reference to Emmy Noether ?

Posted by: joel rice | August 10, 2009 at 08:54 AM

I vote "The Calculus Diaries" and have hard won statistics to back it up. Looking into the way back machine there was a time in my callow youth when I became enamoured of "high-concept" names. My business partner and I had just written the very first commercially available database-driven bulk emailer (mea culpa, mea maxima culpa!) and started to sell it as shareware. For some bizarre reason "eBase/Mailer" sounded good to us so we went with it.

After three months the sales were fairly anaemic so we decided to do an experiment and private-label the program as "Bulk Emailer". We made no other changes but as soon as we uploaded the "new" program sales really started to take off. Over the next two months Bulk Emailer outsold eBase/Mailer 9 to 1!

It should, however, be noted that I'm not always the best student of my own experience. I'm a founding partner of a hedge fund which we named NPI Traders. The NPI stands for "No Pun Intended"....

I know, I know: stupid name and all that but we we're young.

Posted by: Louis S. Berman | August 10, 2009 at 09:01 AM

Jennifer,

Congrats on making it to the damn home stretch.

Not too crazy about either title though.

I would definitely favor "The Calculus Diaries" over "Dangerous Curves..." simply because the movie reference is too cutesy and also because anyone who doesn't know anything about calculus has no idea about its curvilinear aspects.

Were it me, I would go with: "Calculus This ! "

with "This" italicized to induce a reading of it like Worf to the Borg: (Assimilate This !) along with a disarming subtitle of choice which alludes to another book that dealt with a difficult topic (The Joy of Sex) so maybe: "A Simple Diary exploring the Joy of Math " where the use of the word "simple" is deliberately intended to remedy any intimidation created by the presence of the word "Calculus".

In any case, I wish you great success with it.

Posted by: Phil S. Ioannou | August 10, 2009 at 11:49 AM

Whose your audience for this book? Let me put it this way, if I were to buy your book as a gift for someone how would you describe that person? For, example, would it be my niece who hates math and I want to help her overcome her fears/stereotypes? Or my dad who is a retired math teacher? Are you counting on your existing base of readers who bought your works?

I think the target audience bears significantly on the title.

Posted by: Michael T. | August 10, 2009 at 12:00 PM

I just wanted to say thanks for posting this. I'm not a regular reader, but as someone who spends a lot of time defending the capabilities of women in fields like this to people who insist women are incapable of logic and linear thought, I appreciate your explanation.

I grew up a stellar math student, with consistent high marks, the top math scorer in my school on our standardized tests, and was occasionally asked to explain problems to other students in my 8th grade, advanced Algebra I class. I realize now that a lot of it depended on me translating the standard teaching into my own method (I worked out problems backwards) something much easier to do on lower levels of math. And then my freshman year in high school I began failing out of Algebra II. My teacher was terrible, I was uninspired and confused, and the class size made it impossible to get adequate help. From that point on I avoided math like the plague.

Anyway, I wish I would have pursued it more. I appreciate writing and blogs that give me a glimpse into the fascinating world of math that I feel like I missed out on. I'm excited to read your book.

Posted by: Amber | August 10, 2009 at 04:11 PM

@Amber: I'm so sorry you got pushed out of math, when you clearly had an aptitude for it. I especially appreciate your saying you had your own method, namely, working out problems backwards. I think I certainly learned the basics of calculus backward, and not even linearly at that. :) It was a gradual circling inward, starting with the history and personal stories, then the basic concepts, then some rudimentary exercises graphing functions, and finally learning how to take a conceptual question and turn it into a calculus problem, then solving it. And oh yeah, I had to review algebra and trig along the way. :)

@Michael: People like Amber are my target audience, although I would hope math teachers, scientists, etc. would find it interesting/amusing as well, even if the subject matter is very familiar to them

Posted by: Jennifer Ouellette | August 10, 2009 at 04:21 PM

@Prem: I'm really liking your suggestion. "Dangerous Curves: A Calculus Diary." And thanks to everyone else for their suggestions. It's all going into the pot as fodder....

Posted by: Jennifer Ouellette | August 10, 2009 at 04:25 PM

It's frustrating that the titles of so many popular math and math related books remind people that dislike for the subject is common. For this reason, I strongly prefer "The Calculus Diaries." It is neutral, succinct, and inspires curiosity. There is also too much of a tendency to try to be cutesy in the titles of such books. And yes, the other title seems way too cutesy to me! Even "Dangerous Curves: A Calculus Diary" suffers in both of these ways (though it is far better than "Dangerous Curves: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Calculus). Stick with "The Calculus Diaries"!

Posted by: Eleanor Rieffel | August 10, 2009 at 10:06 PM