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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?

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?

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:

Why 'the' Calculus?

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. :-)



Hungry for Yuri? Have some Okazu!

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)



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. :)

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.

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...

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.)

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.


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.

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.

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.


*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').

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

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?

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?

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 ?

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.

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.

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.

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.

@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

@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....

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"!

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      Mix tequila, triple sec and lime juice in a shaker and pour into a margarita glass. (Salted rim and ice are optional.) Top off with 7-Up/Sprite and let the weight of the world lift off your shoulders.
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