“A mathematician, like a painter or poet, is a maker of patterns,” wrote the British mathematician G. H. Hardy. In Do Not Erase, photographer Jessica Wynne presents remarkable examples of this idea through images of mathematicians’ chalkboards. While other fields have replaced chalkboards with whiteboards and digital presentations, mathematicians remain loyal to chalk for puzzling out their ideas and communicating their research. Wynne offers more than one hundred stunning photographs of these chalkboards, gathered from a diverse group of mathematicians around the world. The photographs are accompanied by essays from each mathematician, reflecting on their work and processes. Together, pictures and words provide an illuminating meditation on the unique relationships among mathematics, art, and creativity.
The mathematicians featured in this collection comprise exciting new voices alongside established figures, including Sun-Yung Alice Chang, Alain Connes, Misha Gromov, Andre Neves, Kasso Okoudjou, Peter Shor, Christina Sormani, Terence Tao, Claire Voisin, and many others. The companion essays give insights into how the chalkboard serves as a special medium for mathematical expression. The volume also includes an introduction by the author, an afterword by New Yorker writer Alec Wilkinson, and biographical information for each contributor.
Do Not Erase is a testament to the myriad ways that mathematicians use their chalkboards to reveal the conceptual and visual beauty of their discipline—shapes, figures, formulas, and conjectures created through imagination, argument, and speculation.
Awards and Recognition
- Winner of the PROSE Award in Popular Science and Mathematics, Association of American Publishers
"Do Not Erase . . . reveals the scribbles, workings and eureka moments of minds bursting with equations and theories, a paean to mental graft and the blackboards that display it. You can almost feel the tickle of dust in the nose, the thump of chalk on the board, the swish of a cuff brushing away a mistake."—Nicola Davis, The Observer
"American photographer Jessica Wynne’s Do Not Erase captures the visual workings of mathematicians in producing formulas and illustrating their thoughts."—Cheyenne Darko, The Financial Times Snapshot
"This is an original, elegant, if baffling book."—Andrew Robinson, Nature
"[Wynne] forces us to look at the chalkboards themselves, to see them as documents or artifacts, without the irresistible distraction of human presence."—Brian Hayes, American Scientist
"This is a wonderful mirror that Jessica Wynne shows us mathematicians of a world that is so very familiar when looking at it from the inside of our world of mathematics. . . . [that also] forces us to think in a different way about what we are doing day in and day out."—Adhemar Bultheel, MAA Reviews
"An incredible, intense delight to read and study . . . Do Not Erase has become my favorite book to randomly explore."—Edward J. Valauskas, First Monday
"[A] testament to the myriad ways that mathematicians use their chalkboards to reveal the conceptual and visual beauty of their discipline-shapes, figures, formulas, and conjectures created through imagination, argument, and speculation."—MathSciNet
"Beautiful. . . . [This] book will also remain a monument for history, too."—Athanase Papadopoulos, zbMATH Open
"What does thought look like? As Jessica Wynne shows us, the action of the mind might have no external expression as eloquent as the human, timebound, build-it-up-and-break-it-back-down surface of a working thinker’s chalkboard. Wynne’s daringly soft-spoken photographs testify at once to the breadth, concreteness, and quietly thrilling historical depth of mathematical thinking as a way of life."—Joel Smith, Morgan Library & Museum
"The blackboard is a window into the mathematician’s mind and the complicated tangle of thoughts, feelings, and impulses that reside there. Do Not Erase is an unprecedented document of creativity frozen in calcite."—Jordan Ellenberg, author of Shape: The Hidden Geometry of Information, Biology, Strategy, Democracy, and Everything Else
"Jessica Wynne had a truly inspired idea when she began taking photographs of chalkboards filled with mathematical figures, diagrams, equations, formulas, and theorems. Do Not Erase captures the beauty and messiness, seriousness and playfulness, endless searching and creativity, and energy and life contained in these boards. It contributes to the mathematical literature while bringing the beauty of mathematics to general readers."—John J. Watkins, author of Number Theory: A Historical Approach
"In this remarkable book, Jessica Wynne’s ambitious collection of blackboard images offers a distinctive picture of the working world of professional mathematics. With contributions from a huge cast of mathematicians, Do Not Erase gives a unique perspective on the profession and its most famous medium."—Michael J. Barany, University of Edinburgh