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When Francis Su ended his appointment as president of the Mathematical Association of America he was invited to give his parting speech. Months later, he continued to receive responses and requests for further explanations of his thoughts. Mathematics for Human Flourishing is the resulting expansion of those inspiring insights. 

Used as a university text, this book is for anyone who was told they were not good at math or for anyone who was simply left behind. It challenges long-held and institutionalized stereotypes of who will be good at math and the attitude of exclusivity toward math studies. It offers a view of math that affirms the humanness of math and how the joy of living with math leads to human flourishing. 

Su’s opening invitation is one to flourish. He posits that a world without mathematical affection and interaction is like a city “without concerts, parks, or museums.” It is a world without delight in play and pattern, ideas and exploration. Su goes on to posit his own delight and worldview of mathematics, considering how the pursuit of mathematics is rooted in an understanding of human virtues. From exploration and play to truth telling, power, and justice, Su considers how all of life is enriched through mathematics whether one is aware of it or not, embraces it and even denies one’s ability to engage with math and how life is then accordingly diminished. 

Su includes a parallel conversation and growing relationship that he has with Christopher Jackson, an incarcerated young man. As Jackson’s years in prison stretch ahead of him, he discovers his interest in mathematics and reaches out to Su for inspiration. Their correspondence adds a rich dimension as Su encourages Jackson to not only work through calculus and algebra but also to engage the deeper questions of meaning and justice as he serves out his prison term. 

Su’s text is also storied with examples of other people who experienced coercive discouragement or unexpected affirmation through those they encountered in their own pursuit of math joy. Throughout are classic games and puzzles that the reader is invited to play or solve.   

Su ends with a final acknowledgment. “As a follower of Jesus, I am grateful to the one who defends the dignity of all human beings and sustains my own experience of human flourishing.”

This reviewer savored reading this book, wishing she had engaged these ideas years ago, and she is inspired to embrace a more conscious awareness of mathematics in her day-to-day life.  Recommended for everyone who desires to live a life of fullness and flourishing.

(Yale University Press)

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