As some relief from the heavy lunacy of the AMT debacle, here is a light little story, a lead-in to a second little story to come soon. A couple weeks ago, we were contacted by Simon the Likeable, asking if we had any “old (or new) texts” containing an introduction to matrices suitable for not-so-strong Year 10 students. Simon wanted to avoid using the school’s current Year 11 text, which the students would use next year, but also his inclination was to use an older text.
As matrices are a more modern topic, our old Year 10 (Form 4) texts contained nothing of much use. We did, however, find some good treatments in old Victorian Year 11 texts, including two books by “Bernie” Fitzpatrick and G. L. Watson.* These books were published in 1971 (left) and 1985 (right), with the books’ treatment of matrices close to identical. The later treatment is slightly gentler (and slightly marred by the briefly popular superscript notation for negatives: –5 instead of -5); we sent that version to Simon the Likeable. Beyond that, there are a couple things worth noting about these texts.
First of all, the texts are very good, much better than current texts. They are not great, memorable texts, but they are clear and solid.** Words are used sparingly and carefully. The examples and exercises are well chosen. There are no neon colours to blind the reader, and no idiotic photographs or monkey calculator nonsense to distract from the mathematics. Even the treatment of matrices, which is difficult to get too wrong in an introduction, is clearly better in these earlier texts than in current ones. Bernie Fitzpatrick is of course a legend of Australian textbook writing.*** So the quality of the texts is perhaps due to both the times and the author(s). And, if you hunt hard enough at enough Sunday markets, you can get these books for a dollar.
The second thing to note is that, simply because of their age, the textbooks can end up being very funny. Which is the main impetus for this post (although we’ll also get back to the first point in a future post). The following is an example from the texts (the same in both), the second on multiplication of matrices. It made us laugh, at least.
*) All due apologies are extended to G. L. Watson for our title. But, Bernie was/is the more famous guy, and was perhaps more the driving force behind these books. And we couldn’t resist the ring of the title.
**) A later edition of the 1971 text, together with its companion, were our textbooks in Year 11. We remember liking the texts, more than previous years’, although we didn’t love them.
***) Bernie’s Pure Mathematics and Applied Mathematics, co-authored with should-be-legend Peter Galbraith, were our Year 12 texts. These books we loved, and love. They were a hundred miles better than anything we had seen, or have seen.