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Gardner, Martin

Entry updated 12 September 2022. Tagged: Author.

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(1914-2010) US mathematician, amateur conjuror, journalist and author of many books of popular science, along with several volumes of puzzles and games. In the Name of Science (1952; rev vt Fads and Fallacies in the Name of Science 1957) is an iconoclastic and amusing nonfiction book about Pseudoscience: cults, fads and hoaxes existing on the fringes of science, with chapters on Hollow-Earth and flat-Earth theories, pyramidology, UFOs and other subjects. Of particular interest to sf readers may be its references to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Charles Fort, L Ron Hubbard and Richard S Shaver. More recent works in the same debunking line include Science: Good, Bad and Bogus (coll 1981), The New Age: Notes of a Fringe Watcher (coll 1988) and Weird Water & Fuzzy Logic: More Notes of a Fringe Watcher (1996). A notable non-debunking volume is The Ambidextrous Universe (1964; final rev vt The New Ambidextrous Universe: Symmetry and Asymmetry from Mirror Reflections to Superstrings 1990), which moves from simple questions of symmetry to profound problems of physical philosophy; it is one of the finest works of scientific popularization.

From 1956 until 1981 Gardner wrote the Mathematical Games column in Scientific American, and fifteen collections assembling these pieces have been published, beginning with The Scientific American Book of Mathematical Puzzles and Diversions (coll 1959) [see Checklist for vts] and including Further Mathematical Diversions: The Paradox of the Unexpected Hanging and Others (coll 1969) and Mathematical Carnival: from Penny Puzzles, Card Shuffles and Tricks of Lightning Calculators to Roller Coaster Rides into the Fourth Dimension (1975); the series ends with The Last Recreations: Hydras, Eggs, and other Mathematical Mystifications (coll 1997), with fifty selections from the entire run of columns appearing as The Colossal Book of Mathematics: Classic Puzzles, Paradoxes, and Problems (coll 2001). Subjects discussed include higher spatial Dimensions, M C Escher's art, Flatland and A K Dewdney's take on the theme, Douglas Hofstadter and Time Travel. The Numerology of Dr Matrix: The Fabulous Feats and Adventures in Number Theory, Sleight of Word, and Numerological Analysis (Literary, Biblical, Political, Philosophical, and Psychonumeranalytical) of that Incredible Master Mind, First Introduced in the Pages of the Scientific American (coll 1967) and its expansions [see Checklist] bring together a number of spoof stories from that column about the eponymous numerologist and rogue, a practitioner of several of the shady cults described in Gardner's debunking books. From the Spring 1977 launch of Isaac Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine (now Asimov's Science Fiction) until November 1986, Gardner had a Mathematics column there, with puzzles often posed in the form of short-short sf stories; these are collected as Science Fiction Puzzle Tales (coll 1981), Puzzles from Other Worlds: Fantastical Brainteasers from Isaac Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine (coll 1984) and Riddles of the Sphinx and Other Mathematical Puzzle Tales (coll 1987). Further collections of essays, some with an sf connection, include Order and Surprise (coll 1983); Gardner's Whys and Wherefores (coll 1989); the substantial retrospective selection The Night Is Large: Collected Essays 1938-1995 (coll 1996), whose forty-nine pieces, most with 1996 postscripts, include essays on serious science supplementary to such works as The Ambidextrous Universe; and From the Wandering Jew to William F Buckley Jr: On Science, Literature and Religion (coll 2000).

The No-Sided Professor, and Other Tales of Fantasy, Humor, Mystery, and Philosophy (coll 1987) assembles sf, fantasy and other stories (not puzzle stories). As an author/editor of fiction, Gardner is also well-known for The Annotated Alice (1960), a densely glossed edition of Lewis Carroll's two Alice books – it is supplemented by More Annotated Alice (1990), with both volumes' annotations combined in The Annotated Alice: The Definitive Version (1999) – and The Annotated Snark (1962; rev 2006), a similar treatment of Carroll's The Hunting of the Snark (1876 chap). Gardner's interest in L Frank Baum's Oz books was first expressed in an early (possibly the first ever) essay on the author's life, "Royal Historian of Oz" (January-February 1955 F&SF); he later published a Sequel by Other Hands written for adult rather than child Oz enthusiasts, Visitors from Oz: The Wild Adventures of Dorothy, the Scarecrow, and the Tin Woodman (1999), much of it set in New York, which the characters listed in the subtitle visit in order to publicize a new Oz film. The late and eclectic collection The Jinn from Hyperspace and Other Scribblings – Both Serious and Whimsical (coll 2008) includes multiple essays on each of Baum, Carroll and G K Chesterton. His autobiography Undiluted Hocus-Pocus: The Autobiography of Martin Gardner (2013) appeared posthumously.

Gardner's career was astonishingly wide-ranging, and that touching on science fiction was only a small fraction of it. Others of his more than fifty books cover topics such as Religion – perhaps most interestingly in the picaresque novel, composed mostly of discussions, The Flight of Peter Fromm (1973) – philosophy, Politics, and History. If one thread links all his work, it is that there is no end to the fascination that can be gained from subjecting the world to the rational mind. [JC/JE/GS/DRL]

see also: Antimatter; Chess; Paranoia; SETI.

Martin Gardner

born Tulsa, Oklahoma: 21 October 1914

died Norman, Oklahoma: 22 May 2010

works (selected)


Mathematical Games

Puzzles for Asimov's

individual titles: fiction

individual titles: nonfiction (highly selected)

nonfiction collections

works as editor (selected)


previous versions of this entry

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