The British author and journalist John Parker has produced an intriguing book about one of the most intriguing characters in American mathematics in the twentieth century ....
This book is as much a description of Moore's unique teaching style as it is a biography of an important mathematician. The so-called "Moore method" virtually prohibited students from using textbooks during the learning process, provided the briefest of lectures in class and demanded no collaboration or conferring between classmates. Moore's own brief description of the method was "that student is taught best who is told the least". It is essentially a Socratic method which requires students to use their own abilities, creativity and analysis to solve problems. ...
Parker is to be congratulated on providing a book which presents the legacy of R. L. Moore, and the implications of his work and teaching for mathematics in modern times. This book is a "must-read" for historians of mathematics, for topologists, for mathematics educators, for UT mathematics graduates, and for university human resource managers contemplating the introduction of a mandatory retirement age.
Parker describes the life and work of a Texan gentleman and professor of mathematics, Robert Lee Moore (1882-1974) and Parker does this very well. Moore was not only a brilliant mathematician and one of the main founders of the American school of point set topology, but a great teacher and an interesting and controversial man. The contributions of Moore to mathematics are important, but the Moore method that he used in his classes -- characterized by Paul Halmos as the 'only right method to teach anything and everything' -- is also definitely still worth serious attention. It is the radical opposite of pouring results into students, whether they understand them or not. ... Mathematics and spotting and nourishing mathematical talent was everything for him. The book is an important and well written contribution to the 20th century history of mathematics in the United States.
The name of R. L. Moore appears throughout the mathematical literature, primarily for the Moore method of teaching, secondarily for the achievements of his mathematical progeny and thirdly for his mathematical output. Since his output was considerable, this order says something for the significance of the first two.
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The story of his last years as a professor and how the administration tried to remove him is amazing. There was point/counterpoint, devious manipulation and some of the most obfuscated doubletalk that has ever appeared in an academic setting. Moore was also in the middle of many of the internal political battles that took place at the University of Texas, and some of them had national ramifications.
R. L. Moore was a powerful figure in the American mathematical community of the twentieth century. He is arguably the most powerful that was not imported, and he was involved in research, training high quality mathematicians and fought many political battles against anyone who disagreed with him. This biography is an honest appraisal of the man and the many ways he impacted the mathematical profession.
I particularly enjoyed the seventy photos Parker included in his biography—pictures of Moore, his students, and his contemporaries at the University of Chicago and the University of Texas. ... The biography is readable and well-documented, but it has too much minutiae for many if not most readers. In addition, as important as Moore was, he is not the most pleasant person to read about. However, if you would like to read more about the Moore Method I suggest chapters: 6, 8, 9, 11 ("Moore the Teacher"), 13 "Class of '45"), 15 ("His Female Students"), 16 ("Moore's Calculus"), and 18.
A rich and engaging tale, told well with warts and all, the book is foremost an American life and Parker is at his best in these details. There is more here than Moore and his method of teaching--a (big and Texan) slice of academic life in 20th-century America. This is a welcome addition to the growing stock of 20th-century history. Summing Up: Highly recommended. General readers; lower-division undergraduates through faculty.
Parker ... provides an engaging introduction to the life and times of this captivating figure. Little mathematics will be found here ... . However, for the reader interested in events surrounding mathematics in America through about 1970 ... this book provides an excellent overview.
We examine the biography through the eyes of someone referred to only as "Mr. W" in the MAA film about the Moore Method titled Challenge in the Classroom. . . .
Who is Mr. W? His full name is John M. Worrell, Jr. In the film Moore tells about how Worrell walked out of class in 1958-59 because he did not want to be told a certain concept. Two years later, in a subsequent class, Moore started to make a remark when Worrell, fearing that Moore was about to define that concept, seized the door knob, flung open the door, and rushed out of the room. Worrell had learned the vital lesson that he was empowered to think of the concept himself. He did not have to defer to external authority, any authority, whether it be eminent professor, revered classmate, or classical book. And isn't that the ultimate lesson we want our students to learn? Don't we tell them that there is no back-of-the-book in real life? . . .
This book traces [Moore's] life from his early days . . . through his forced retirement from teaching at age 86. Along the way the reader encounters various mathematical and non- mathematical developments. The final part deals with the ignoble handling of Moore's forced retirement; it reads like a historical novel. The reader will not be able to put it down until completing the last page, and even then will wish that a sequel was in store.
The intention is to put Moore's story before a wider audience, especially instructors of mathematics from secondary school upward. The result is an entertaining narrative, sometimes verging on breezy, with many thought-provoking details. Any reader with experience of college mathematics is likely to gain new perspectives.
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Last revised 4/13/2011