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the Complete Review
the complete review - mathematics


Drawbridge Up
Zugbrücke außer Betrieb

Hans Magnus Enzensberger

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To purchase Drawbridge Up

Title: Drawbridge Up
Author: Hans Magnus Enzensberger
Genre: Essay
Written: (1998)
Length: 47 pages
Original in: German
Availability: Drawbridge Up - US
Drawbridge Up - UK
Drawbridge Up - Canada
Zugbrücke außer Betrieb - Deutschland
  • This is a bilingual edition, containg both the original German address (given at the International Congress of Mathematicians in Berlin, August, 1998) and the English version
  • Die Mathematik im Jenseits der Kultur - Eine Außenansicht
  • Mathematics - A Cultural Anathema
  • Translated by Tom Artin
  • With a Preface by David Mumford
  • With illustrations by Karl Heinrich Hoffmann

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Our Assessment:

B+ : succinct overview of why innumeracy is so widespread, and what might be done about it

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Mathematics Magazine . 4/1999 Paul J. Campbell

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The complete review's Review:

       Though there are numerous public intellectuals who have tried to bridge the perceived two-culture divide, the highly regarded poet and essayist Enzensberger is among the few (along with George Steiner) from the 'liberal arts' side who have focussed in particular on mathematics (rather than science more generally). Drawbridge Up / Zugbrücke außer Betrieb is a bilingual edition of an address H.M.Enszensberger's gave at the International Congress of Mathematicians in 1998. In it, he considers why mathematics remains beyond the reach (and interest) of much of the population, and argues that mathematics deserves to -- and should -- be much more widely appreciated and understood.
       Enzensberger's piece is short, but ranges widely. He suggests many of the reasons why mathematics has become an isolated field, finding blame on both sides. Mathematical jargon (and notation) render it less accessible, as does the tendency to "leap-frog over recurring intermediate steps" -- leaving those who aren't in the know in the dark by not laying out the (boring, to the expert) intermediate steps. More than anywhere else, however, he finds fault with how mathematics is taught, at every level -- but particularly at the earliest stages. He notes that rote arithmetic-learning is practically all that is expected of students for much of the time they study maths at school, suggesting that it would be much more sensible to also fostering abstract thinking in children (which, he notes, they are perfectly capable of, and in many cases particularly receptive to).
       Enzensberger's enthusiasm for the current golden age of mathematics (and his bafflement at the absurdity of it passing largely unnoticed by the general public) also come through clearly:

Contemporary achievements in this field are at all events spectacular. The visual arts, literature, and the theater, too, I'm afraid, come off rather poorly by comparison.
       As he notes, mathematics really is everywhere in our lives, and it is a shame that more people do not better understand the connexions. He finds a richness similar to that of music in maths (and thinks it could be similarly widely approachable and appreciated), but thinks that the way it has been presented and drummed into most people prevents them from realising what they are missing.
       How truly widespread ignorance of even relatively basic mathematics is is, indeed, often overlooked, and Enzenseberger's plea -- arguing on an even more fundamental level than the usual one for scientific literacy -- is a welcome one.
       In his introduction David Mumford expresses the hope that:
the right people read this essay, the movers and shakers of school curricula, and that it moves them to let a hundred flowers bloom in the classroom.
       Certainly, one hopes the message reaches beyond mathematicians -- and even school curricula-shapers. The issue is of significance to all society, and so this little essay deserves a far wider readership.
       An important argument, nicely and quickly presented.

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Drawbridge Up: Reviews: Hans Magnus Enzensberger: Other books by Hans Magnus Enzensberger under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       German author Hans Magnus Enzensberger was born in 1929. He is best-known as a poet and essayist.

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