Read Undiluted Hocus-Pocus: The Autobiography of Martin Gardner by Martin Gardner Online


Martin Gardner wrote the Mathematical Games column for Scientific American for twenty-five years and published more than seventy books on topics as diverse as magic, religion, and Alice in Wonderland. Gardner's illuminating autobiography is a candid self-portrait by the man evolutionary theorist Stephen Jay Gould called our "single brightest beacon" for the defense of ratiMartin Gardner wrote the Mathematical Games column for Scientific American for twenty-five years and published more than seventy books on topics as diverse as magic, religion, and Alice in Wonderland. Gardner's illuminating autobiography is a candid self-portrait by the man evolutionary theorist Stephen Jay Gould called our "single brightest beacon" for the defense of rationality and good science against mysticism and anti-intellectualism.Gardner takes readers from his childhood in Oklahoma to his varied and wide-ranging professional pursuits. He shares colorful anecdotes about the many fascinating people he met and mentored, and voices strong opinions on the subjects that matter to him most, from his love of mathematics to his uncompromising stance against pseudoscience. For Gardner, our mathematically structured universe is undiluted hocus-pocus--a marvelous enigma, in other words.Undiluted Hocus-Pocus offers a rare, intimate look at Gardner's life and work, and the experiences that shaped both....

Title : Undiluted Hocus-Pocus: The Autobiography of Martin Gardner
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ISBN : 9780691159911
Format Type : Hardcover
Number of Pages : 288 Pages
Status : Available For Download
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Undiluted Hocus-Pocus: The Autobiography of Martin Gardner Reviews

  • Brian Clegg
    2019-05-02 22:35

    I was delighted to see Martin Gardner’s autobiography, as he was a great science writer. I loved his mathematical columns (mostly encountered through collections like Mathematical Puzzles and Diversions) and his annotated versions of books by Lewis Carroll – and he wrote well on the matter of pseudoscience.I ought to say straight away that the book was a bit of a disappointment. In part this is simply because Gardner had a very ordinary sort of life. I don’t say that disparagingly – it’s just like most of us. When you read a book about someone like Richard Feynman you have both the opportunity to read about his amazing work, and his remarkable life. Gardner’s work is its own tribute, while the life of a science writer is not all that exciting, certainly in this case.The other problem I had is that a lot of what’s in the book doesn’t particularly resonate. There are long sections about subtle debates in obscure (and now mostly forgotten) versions of 20th century philosophy, plus the politics of the University of Chicago that is hard to get excited by. And there is also Gardner’s sense of humour, which seems to be very much of a different age. Whenever he recounts a ‘funny’ story, it’s a bit like looking at an old Punch cartoon – you can’t quite understand why it was considered humorous. This comes through strongly when Gardner spends several pages recounting the ‘hilarious’ exploits of a practical joker friend.At one point we are told there are many examples of this practical joker at work, but Gardner is just picking out two, presumably the best. One of these involves writing to a paperclip manufacturer, complaining that the box of 100 clips only has 98 in it, and when he opened the box, it smelled funny. The punchline is that the manufacturer wrote back to say that numbers in the box varied, so it could be a couple under or over 100, and they didn’t know why it smelled funny. My, how we roared with laughter.Attempts at humour aside, the book comes alive when Gardner talks about mathematical puzzles, magic and testing fraudulent pseudoscience – but it is a relatively small part of the content. Also of real interest is his honest explanation of why he was a deist, though no longer a Christian, and the entertainment he clearly got from winding up atheists who expected him to be one of them with his arguably irrational but very human arguments.If, like me, you are are a Gardner fan, you will find material to interest you in here – but don’t expect it be a rip-roaring page turner of an autobiography. It is a gentle meander through a mostly unremarkable life story that produced some decidedly remarkable writing.

  • Clay
    2019-05-03 22:28

    I think Gardner echoed my thoughts in the first sentence of his last chapter when he called this a "disheveled memoir". (I almost used his Chapter 11 summation of "slovenly autobiography," but things got a tad better in the second half.) I feel that Gardner can write eloquently and cohesively and brilliantly about just about anything, except himself.I had certain expectations about what I thought Martin Gardner's life and background must have been from reading his Scientific American "Mathematical Games" columns (and collections) and several logic and puzzle books. I was surprised to find that he had no formal training in math or physics. Instead, he pursued a Philosophy degree and was a connoisseur of poetry and he wrote and edited many different kinds of books and novels that I was previously not aware of. His lack of science training, though, helped him create potable explanations for hard topics that I have always appreciated.As for the book, it is organized mostly chronologically. He relates events and anecdotes about the people he met and worked with and interacted with throughout his life. Unfortunately, these tidbits didn't extend past 1-3 paragraphs before he would be delving into another person or quite a different situation. In describing the important people and professors that he dealt with, I found Gardner exhibiting an almost prurient fixation on the religious beliefs and self-categorizations of almost everybody around him. (Studying philosophy, I guess that is what was important to him at the time.) It may be that he was writing this late in life, but several of the episodes have something that he's forgotten (how they met, something that was exchanged, why they met, etc.). It was aggravating to read these, almost like he started to tell a joke, but left out the punchline; and why he felt the need to mention that he has forgotten this or that was also a mystery. There are a couple of stories repeated, but I may have noticed those more than the casual reader since I read the bulk of the material in just a few sittings.A touch of editing and some rearrangement into a less rambling and "disheveled" account would have been appreciated. Even so, I'm happy to have some background (and a wealth of previously unknown Gardner writings to pursue) on the life of a man I have admired for many, many years.

  • Gendou
    2019-05-02 21:41

    I know of Gardner from CSICOP and the Skeptical Inquirer. I was pleased to learn in this book of his involvement with the likes of James Randi, Isaac Asimov, John Conway, and even Salvador Dalí. I'd hoped there would be more in this book about debunking and "hocus-pocus" but alas, it's a fairly typical memoir. Gardner talks about growing up religious, writing, creating math puzzles, and there's at least one chapter about his skeptical work. He talks at length about being inspired by Frank Baum and Lewis Carroll.An odd theme throughout the book is his flavor of "because I wish it were true" deism. He calls himself a mysterian which seems to mean he believes in the so-called hard problem of consciousness. He also subscribes to Roger Penrose's crackpot theory that microtubule cause consciousness. This stuff is really off-putting and out of character for an otherwise skeptical person. Everyone has their sacred cow, I guess.

  • Joshua Buhs
    2019-05-19 22:46

    So, in this disheveled autobiography--his own words--Martin Gardner comes across as Gilderoy Lockhart.Obviously, I never knew Gardner, and by the accounts I've read, he seems to have been well-respected with a lot of friends. But this book does nothing to make that case. It's barely a book, more notes toward a book.Again and again (and again and again), he'll cut himself off and tell the reader to consult one of his many other books. It's not once or twice or even thrice he does this, but dozen of times. And each time, I could only think of Lockhart interrupting one of his speeches in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets to tell some adoring fans to go out and buy another of his books to get the rest of the story.I mean, what's the point?And narcissistic? Yes, Gardner's persona here i very egotistical. He admits that early in his own life, he flipped through a number of different belief systems, and even when he wrote this--in 2010, not long before his death--was outside the usual range of skeptics in being Christian and a mysterian. (He says he's a mysterian and explains it, using almost the exact same words, three different times!), so you'd think he might have some empathy for people who do not think like him.Nope!He's constantly scoffing at almost everyone else, because they do not think exactly as he does, and his is the only way to think correctly: one should favor science, have little interest in culture or history, think like a mathematician, accept that there is one god (but anything more is pure balderdash), have social democrat leanings (to the extent that all developed countries are socially democrats) favor classical aesthetics and dismiss modern art and literature.It is impossible to resist the conclusion that Gardner wants to be an outsider, wants to consider him one of the elect, the few who know the universe's true secrets. Almost everyone else is benighted. There are a vanishingly small number of people who have different views from him and to whom he extends some measure of respect. But not the great mass of people.The real problem is that, on the evidence of this book, Gardner's intellect is not special. His ideas come across as biases, his opinions the grumbling of an old man--who cannot even finish his thoughts and repeats himself endlessly.Very disappointing.

  • Jens Fiederer
    2019-05-12 18:45

    Fairly dry autobiography of a fascinating manI'd consider this more a collection of interesting stories than an autobiography. His kids are barely mentioned, his romantic experiences are reduced to a brief account of dating his wife.

  • Jim Coughenour
    2019-05-03 18:40

    Martin Gardner's collection of essays The Night is Large is on my bookshelf next to Frederick Crews's Follies of the Wise – a natural pairing of skeptics whose debunking is full of delight. I also have the "definitive edition" of Gardner's Annotated Alice. I've never read any of these books cover to cover but I pick them up from time to time and genuinely enjoy their contents.Undiluted Hocus-Pocus is short enough to read in an afternoon, and it made this Sunday in San Francisco fly. Midway through Gardner refers to his book as a "slovenly autobiography" – and in truth it's fairly pedestrian, a relaxed collection of memories, friends and opinions. On the other hand Gardner wrote it at 95, a fact I find more astonishing than any of his magic tricks or mathematical games. The (amused) confession that he is a kind of theist startled some of his friends and readers.* Gardner calls himself a "mysterian" – although one should probably beware of a magician who begins by saying "Let me spread my cards on the table." Mysterians "share a conviction that no philosopher or scientist living today has the foggiest notion of how consciousness, and its inseparable companion free will, emerge, as they surely do, from a material brain.... Surely there are truths beyond our grasp as our grasp is beyond that of a cow." I'm with him there. The neologism is a change from "agnostic" or "atheist" when it comes to admitting that we can pose important, intelligible questions for ourselves that we have no way of answering – even as we are equally incapable of subscribing to a religious or scientistic dogma.I finished the book thinking that Gardner reminds me of an extremely smart boy in his enthusiasms – his pleasure in games, riddles, and magic tricks as well as his taste in literature, poetry, and art. Everywhere is the playful sparkle of a curious intelligence, but there's nothing I'd call profound, and almost nothing I'd call bitterness. The foreword and afterword salute him as a wonderful friend, which I do find easy to believe._______________________* Shortly before he died, Carl Sagan wrote to tell me he had just reread my [The Whys of a Philosophical Scrivener], and was it fair to say I believed in God only because it made me happier? I responded by saying, in effect, "You've got it!" (201)

  • Jim Razinha
    2019-04-30 02:34

    This is not the man I imagined when reading all those Mathematical Games columns, nor the one who became my one of my favorite skeptics when I first read Fads and Fallacies in the Name of Science...he's quite human. I always marveled at how he could call pseudoscience (and the cranks pushing it) for what it was without libelous criticism. He set that tact aside in his last book and it was refreshing. I also always marveled at his research connections...debunking required access to rare resources that I can't find today in an Internet age.Not a "normal" autobiography, this seemed a stream of consciousness collection of "people I knew" and some "things I've done" memoir and Gardner knew a lot of people. He talks about pubs and restaurants, colleges and classes, obscure poetry and the not-news-to-me revelation of and reasons for his belief in God. That subtle wit that insulted cranks and quacks without them knowing it wasn't necessary here, and as I noted, he set it aside in many places. A few chuckles (emphasis mine): [on "creeping socialism"] "...said Alan Greenspan in one of his rare intelligible remarks." [on Dianetics} "Years later Hubbard added to the therapy a wild, idiotic mythology..."[on cranks] "Each year an untold number of people die as a result of putting their trust in Christian Science or some other form of medical crap such as homeopathy."Priceless gems! and about time. No puzzles to solve - though he references a few and names some conjuring tricks...something for the readers to pull the thread on, should they choose. He unabashedly doesn't qualify his assessment of a few poems as "perfect", though I don't have his ear for them. And his admiration of G.K. Chesterton doesn't fit the image of the man who helped found the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal. Props to the man, though. If I had heroes, he'd be one.

  • Darrenglass
    2019-04-25 01:29

    There is no doubt in my mind that Martin Gardner is one of the best and one of the most important writers of nonfiction in the 20th (and early 21st) century. His writings about science, pseudoscience, mathematics, magic, and so many other topics inspired several generations of people, and did so because he knew how to write a good story even about material that would be dry in other people's hands. So I was excited to hear that he had an autobiography coming out posthumously. And it was interesting to read, but I have to admit that it did not live up to my hopes and expectations. It reads very much as if you were in a room with someone and they just started telling you stories about their life -- it is rambling and jumps around a lot and skims over some things I would have liked to hear more about while spending lots of times on other things. I don't read many autobiographies because they often have these failings -- most people don't have the perspective on their own lives and aren't going to go out and do research to check things themselves -- and while I had hoped for better from Gardner, it was not to be. That said, some of the stories are fascinating and funny and insightful, and it was nice to read some last words written by the man.

  • Paulo Glez Ogando
    2019-05-11 19:31

    I knew Gardner from his puzzles and recreational maths. I knew he was a magician, too. Enough to be willing to read his autobiography because he seems to me an astonishing person.I became amused to learn he hadn't any degree in mathematics because he had an extensive knowledge in this branch. In fact, there is very few maths in this book, you ought to find another biography to learn about Gardner's mathematics. Here you'll read about philosophy, religion, pseudoscience, poetry, magic, the fantastic worlds of 'Alice' and Oz... and almost no maths.You'll find also a relaxed collection of memories, friends and opinions about this and that. Even an index through his entire work, Gardner quotes his own books and he says in which one and in which chapter you can read about certain topics. Besides he explains just this same about books of his friends or books in which he had encountered something interesting or that he has been influenced in some way.But above all in this book you learn that Martin Gardner was an enthusiast about everything he undertakes through his life.

  • Allan Edmonds
    2019-05-01 23:47

    A fun read about the man who encouraged more budding mathematicians than anyone else through his Mathematical Games column at Scientific American. It was especially interesting to read of the early experiences that made him the person he was: his growing up in Tulsa, which is about 50 miles from where I grew up, and about his student days at the University of Chicago, where one of my daughters attended. The quality of the writing wasn't quite what I hoped for. I suspect that the volume, which he wrote at age 95, probably never received the level of editing that it might have, had he not died soon after. I found it interesting that he ended up back in Oklahoma, where one of his children lives, after his wife died. The book is more or less chronological, although dates and places are sometimes a bit unclear. Gardner came to know quite a number of magicians and mathematicians. A unique combination! The book concludes with more personal and rather idiosyncratic ruminations on the existence of god and of an afterlife.

  • Thomas A Wiebe
    2019-04-25 18:22

    Martin Gardner is one of my favorite authors, so when I heard that his autobiography had been recently been published, posthumously, I was interested. For a Gardner fan it is a delight; his plain-spoken mid-West style is well in evidence. Gardner was indefatigably curious, and this book gives some idea of the life he lived while pursuing so many ideas. Gardner met and befriended some of the great intellects of his time; the book is sometimes a bit tedious in its name-dropping, while giving evidence of the joy Gardner felt spending time in the company of brilliant minds. Gardner explores some of his favorite subjects beyond detailing what was by all appearances a full intellectual life. A gift from my wife Cindy, Christmas, 2013.

  • Martha
    2019-05-10 01:47

    Autobiographical ramblings rather than a real autobiography and certainly not memoirs. Lots of interesting stuff on pseudoscience debunking, magic, and massive name dropping as you might expect from someone who knew nearly everyone in Amer science. But badly in need of an editor to cut out repetition, tighten the structure, enhance narrative flow, and try to elicit more analysis which should have been forthcoming from someone with such wide knowledge who wrote so brilliantly for so many decades. Struck me as an indulgence to an eminent 95-year-old which they wanted to get out while his memory was still green.A good read esp if you followed Gardner's columns and enjoy science and/or magic, but I did skim toward the end.

  • Jo Oehrlein
    2019-05-23 01:34

    Doesn't feel well-edited because there are some repetitive parts. Feels in many ways like a series of disconnected essays on different parts of his life.Lots of name-dropping of people he met and worked with and papers and books he's written. Also talks about how he got started writing his Scientific American column and some of the different things he explored there. There's a good bit about the people he knew through magic, also.Not consistently deep as far as what information he tells about what parts of his life. Nice to hear from his own lips about his life story -- the most famous recreational mathematician of our age.

  • University of Chicago Magazine
    2019-04-25 19:22

    Martin Gardner, AB’36AuthorFrom our pages (Nov–Dec/13): "Polymath—emphasis on the poly and the math—Martin Gardner, who died in 2010, recounts his rich and varied life in this conversational memoir. From his Oklahoma childhood to a UChicago education to his naval service to stints as a reporter, editor, and short story writer, Gardner shares intimate anecdotes and sharp opinions. Scientific American’s Mathematical Games columnist for 25 years, Gardner published more than 70 books on topics such as magic, philosophy, religion, and pseudoscience. Undiluted Hocus-Pocus, according to Publishers Weekly, 'demonstrates his passion to explain and understand the world around him.'"

  • David Failing
    2019-05-12 23:25

    I guess I ought to read a biography rather than an autobiography if I want to learn a little more about Gardner's mathematics (or just get some of his puzzle collections). However, his descriptions of growing up in Oklahoma were interesting, as were his stories of attending the University of Chicago and serving in the navy. I should have suspected he'd known Ron Graham and Persi Diaconis (fellow mathemagicians), but never knew he had an Erdos number of 2! Otherwise, the book was the typical reflections of a coherent 95 year old on a life well lived.

  • Peter Faur
    2019-05-12 23:22

    This unusual, accomplished gentleman wrote the Mathematical Games column for Scientific American for 25 years and published more than 70 books on topics as diverse as magic, philosophy, religion, pseudoscience, and Alice in Wonderland. His illuminating autobiography is a candid self-portrait of the man evolutionary theorist Stephen Jay Gould called our “single brightest beacon” for the defense of rationality and good science against mysticism and anti-intellectualism.

  • Jennie Leigh
    2019-05-16 21:35

    This one is hard to review. On one hand, the author has reached a level of age and eccentricity that the book is really and truly odd. He zooms in on the most random of anecdote that leaves the reader wondering if there was an editor involved at all. On the other hand, I have such an intensely personal connection to Gardner than I couldn't help but love the book and all of the juicy details. If you love him, its a definite must-resd. If not, this might leave you puzzled.

  • Thomas
    2019-05-13 23:26

    I have to admit I was a bit disappointed by this one. I've been an admirer of Gardner's for many years, but I'm sorry to say he wasn't the best choice of biographer for himself. The first half of the book, in particular, feels more like an inventory of the people he's met (which is interesting, but a bit tedious in presentation) than anything really insightful about his character or life. Still, the second half it much better, though it jumps quickly over many great gaps of time.

  • Thomas
    2019-05-14 18:34

    This does not pretend to be great literature; and it is not as well written as many of his other books. What this is is a delightful reminiscence of a long and exciting life. This is what you might expect to hear in the library after dinner over cigars and port. It is a very intertaining read and I am ver glad that we have it now that he is gone.

  • Daniel DeLappe
    2019-05-24 00:52

    I loved this book due to the fact I have always been a huge fan of Mr Gardner's work. A fascinating that lead a fascinating life.The belief part was interesting. It was a short book which was a problem. Some things could have been discussed deeper.

  • Robin Dawes
    2019-05-03 20:32

    There are too many "I once met this interesting person, and you can read about her in my other book ..." and "I had a friend in college, now he has a job" anecdotes. The last few chapters, in which MG tells us about his own philosophies and how he arrived at them, are golden.

  • Rose
    2019-05-16 23:50

    Funny, touching, charming. Only wish it were longer. Even in his mid-nineties, he was thoughtful of other people, referring to one idiot he encountered in his WWII navy career only as X in case the man or his family are still around. A fitting cap to a career of writing engaging books.

  • Mike Horne
    2019-05-07 02:31

    If you like Martin Gardner, good book to read. If you have never read him, read The Flight of Peter Fromm or one of his other great books. This is the reminiscents of a 90 year old man who had an amazing life. Not a great book, but lots of good stories.

  • A.soorianarayanan
    2019-05-10 02:28

    One of the best autobiography. Learnt a lot about mathematical recreation, puzzles and magic. Interesting mathematical games. Exposing pseudo science

  • Steve Gross
    2019-05-21 01:39

    Only for diehard Martin Gardner fans, but very entertaining if you are one.

  • Lenore Riegel
    2019-05-23 20:24

    A rollicking romp through a beautiful mind. Highly recommended for science and math buffs. A must-read for Science Fiction fans. Gardner wrote the Annotated Alice - need I say more?