Serge Lang is an assho mathematician who “writes” (I use the term loosely) textbooks for various branches of mathematics. His texts include “MATH! Encounters with High School Students,” “The Beauty of Doing mathematics,” “Geometry. A High School Course,” “Basic Mathematics,” “A First Course in Calculus,” “Calculus of Several Variables,” “Introduction to Linear Algebra,” “Linear Algebra,” “Undergraduate Algebra,” “Undergraduate Analysis,” “Complex Analysis,” and “Real and Functional Analysis.”

I hold a deep respect for anyone with the patience and knowledge to write a textbook; especially a textbook for a math course. It would seem to me to be a rather cumbersome task. Serge Lang however, did it in one weekend. And then bragged about it. Yes, my friends, he wrote a book in one weekend. Yes, it is blatantly obvious that he has done so.

He is not favoured amoung textbook authors (at least not at SRC), one of the reasons why is his highly condescending writing. “Paper should also be required to be neat and legible. They should not look as if a stoned fly has just crawled out of an inkwell,” to quote his introduction. He also explain that “The truth of mathematical statement is invariant under permutations of the alphabet,” which, though granted it is true, he uses this fact to rather much mindfuck the students unfortunate enough to have to learn from his texts. Midway through his exercises he establishes that “to break the monotony of the letter x, (we will) use another..” His new letter choice is t, which I whole heartedly believe his chose on the basis of similarity between the letter t and a plus sign.

In addition he has also invented a fairly infamous function schmoo which is equal to 1/(x+ sin(x)). This also happens to be the derivative of cow(x). He has also managed, in the FIFTH revision of his textbook, to continually misspell the name of Allen Altman, a professor at SRC, who, in addition to sending in large lists of corrections to the text book, was also his advisee for his doctorate.

My favorite way to make doing reading from a Serge Lang book less horrifying: play 'How drunk was the author while writing this section?'. It's a well known students' story that he wrote the linal textbook in one sodden weekend, but you can find proof of drunkeness in his other textbooks. For example, from A First Course in Calculus, "In this case, we use the Taylor formula for f = (a +h)."(440) Does he mean the Taylor formula for a sum which he has never mentioned and doesn't write out in full here, but just plugs into?

Professor Lang's last lecture was to the number theory seminar at Berkeley on Diophantine approximation. While his enthusiasm for the subject was evident, I could only describe the talk as long-winded and bogged down with technical details, and I left at five past, which was five minutes later than the talk was scheduled to end. Later I learned his talk went overtime by no less than half an hour.

Serge Lang died September 12, 2005. Those who encountered him regularly will no doubt remember debating him over his denial of the link between HIV and AIDS until it becomes a one-sided shouting match rising to the inevitable "You can't tell a fact from a hole in the ground!" Even in mathematics his style of interaction was famously combative--he may have told you that your ignorance of the "heat kernel" is a grievous omission in your studies--but behind the fury was the rapture of someone who deeply loves his art.

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