Martin Gardner Interview

On October 21, Martin Gardner celebrated his ninetieth birthday. For 25 of his 90 years, Gardner wrote the monthly “Mathematical Games” column for Scientific American. His columns have inspired thousands of readers to learn more about the mathematics that he loved to explore and explain. Among his column correspondents were several distinguished mathematicians and scientists, including John Horton Conway, Persi Diaconis, Ron Graham, Douglas Hofstadter, Richard Guy, Don Knuth, Sol Golomb, and Roger Penrose.

Gardner’s columns have earned him a place of honor in the mathematical community, which has given him many awards. But he has always declined invitations to accept awards in person, on the grounds that he is not a mathematician. “I’m strictly a journalist,” he insists. “I just write about what other people are doing in the field.” His modesty is admirable, but we insist that he is far more than a journalist. In addition to his massive contributions to mathematics, Gardner has written about magic, philosophy, literature, and pseudoscience.

Over his first ninety years, he has produced more than 60 books, most still in print; many have been bestsellers. His Annotated Alice has sold over a million copies, and the 15 volumes collecting his “Mathematical Games ” columns have gone through several printings (Now beginning a run with Cambridge as a complete set).

In his ninetieth year, he has returned to Oklahoma, where he was born. He is in good health and full of energy. We look forward to more from him as he begins his second 90 years. What follows is a portion of an interview done at Gardner’s home in Hendersonville, NC in the fall of 1990 and spring of 1991.

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