Constance Reid


Constance Bowman Reid (January 3, 1918 – October 14, 2010)[1][2] was the author of several biographies of mathematicians and popular books about mathematics. She received several awards for mathematical exposition. She was not a mathematician but came from a mathematical family—one of her sisters was Julia Robinson, and her brother-in-law was Raphael M. Robinson.

Constance Reid
BornConstance Bowman
(1918-01-03)January 3, 1918
St. Louis, Missouri, U.S.
DiedOctober 14, 2010(2010-10-14) (aged 92)
San Francisco, California, U.S.
OccupationMathematics popularizer and biographer
NationalityUnited States
Notable worksFrom Zero to Infinity
Julia: A Life in Mathematics
Notable awardsGeorge Pólya Award
Beckenbach Book Prize
JPBM Communications Award
SpouseNeil D. Reid
RelativesJulia Robinson (sister)
Raphael M. Robinson (brother-in-law)

Background and educationEdit

Reid was born in St. Louis, Missouri, the daughter of Ralph Bowers Bowman and Helen (Hall) Bowman.[2] One of her younger sisters was the mathematician Julia Robinson. The family moved to Arizona and then to San Diego when the girls were a few years old. [3]: 1, 5  In 1950 she married a law student, Neil D. Reid, with whom she had two children, Julia and Stewart.[2][4]: xiii 

Reid received a Bachelor of Arts degree from San Diego State University in 1938 and a Master of Education degree from University of California, Berkeley in 1949. She worked as a teacher of English and journalism from 1939 to 1950, and as a free-lance writer since then.[2] She has said, "I always wanted to be a writer, but it took me a while to find my subject."[2]


Reid's first published work was a memoir of her work in a World War II bomber factory, Slacks and Calluses, published in 1944. She also published a short story.[2]

Her first mathematical publication was an article on perfect numbers for Scientific American.[2] Reid remarked in an interview that some readers objected to her as an author: "But the readers (maybe, just one reader, I have forgotten now) objected that articles in Scientific American should be written by authorities in their fields and not by housewives!"[5]: 272 

The Scientific American article led to an invitation from Robert L. Crowell of the Thomas Y. Crowell Co. publishing house to write "a little book on numbers" [6] that became From Zero to Infinity. Two more popular math books for Crowell followed: Introduction to Higher Mathematics for the General Reader in 1959 and A Long Way from Euclid in 1963.

After writing these books she felt she had run out of ideas, and her sister Julia Robinson suggested that she should update Eric Temple Bell's collection of mathematical biographies, Men of Mathematics.[7] : 1488  After travelling to Göttingen to absorb some mathematical culture, Reid decided instead to write a full-length biography of David Hilbert, who she considered the greatest mathematician of the first half of the twentieth century.[7]: 1489  Julia encouraged her in this project, and the biography was published in 1970 as Hilbert. The Hilbert biography was a success among mathematicians,[7]: 1489  and her next book was a biography of another Göttingen figure, Richard Courant, published in 1976 as Courant in Göttingen and New York. Her next book, published in 1982, was a biography of the mathematical statistician Jerzy Neyman, who like Courant had emigrated to the United States and built a new career there.[5]: 279 

An attempt to write a biography of Eric Temple Bell proved unexpectedly difficult, as he had been very secretive about his early life. Reid discovered that Bell, a native of Scotland, as a young man had spent twelve years in the United States but had never revealed this to his wife or his son. The resulting book, The Search for E. T. Bell, published in 1993, is more of a detective story than a true biography.[2]: 354 

Her sister Julia gradually became more famous, and was elected to the United States National Academy of Sciences in 1976 and President of the American Mathematical Society in 1983. Several people had suggested to Constance that she write a biography of Julia, but Julia always refused to cooperate because she felt scientific biographies should be about science, not about personalities.[7]: 1491  In 1985, when Julia was dying, she unbent enough to allow Constance to write a biographical sketch of her, that was published after Julia's death as "The Autobiography of Julia Robinson" (written by Constance but written in the first person as if by Julia) [7]: 1491  The sketch was published with additional material as a book, Julia: A Life in Mathematics in 1996.


Reid won several awards for mathematical exposition. These include:


  • "Perfect Numbers". Scientific American. March 1953. ISSN 0036-8733.
  • Reid, Constance; Robinson, Julia (1986). "The Autobiography of Julia Robinson". College Mathematics Journal. Mathematical Association of America. 17 (1): 2–21. doi:10.2307/2686866. JSTOR 2686866.
  • From zero to infinity. What makes numbers interesting. Fifth edition. Fiftieth anniversary edition. A K Peters, Ltd., Wellesley, MA, 2006. xviii+188 pp. ISBN 1-56881-273-6[10]
  • Introduction to Higher Mathematics: For the General Reader. New York: Thomas Y. Crowell. 1959.
  • A long way from Euclid. Reprint of the 1963 original. Dover Publications, Inc., Mineola, NY, 2004. ISBN 0-486-43613-6
  • Courant in Göttingen and New York. The story of an improbable mathematician. Springer-Verlag, New York–Heidelberg, 1976. ISBN 0-387-90194-9 Reprint of the 1976 original: Copernicus, New York, 1996. ISBN 0-387-94670-5[11]
  • Neyman. Reprint of the 1982 original. Springer-Verlag, New York, 1998. ISBN 0-387-98357-0
  • Hilbert. Reprint of the 1970 original. Copernicus, New York, 1996. ISBN 0-387-94674-8
  • Julia. A life in mathematics. MAA Spectrum. Mathematical Association of America, Washington, DC, 1996. ISBN 0-88385-520-8
  • The Search for E. T. Bell : Also Known as John Taine. Mathematical Association of America, Washington, DC, 1993. ISBN 0-88385-508-9[12]
  • Slacks and Calluses: Our Summer in a Bomber Factory (autobiography) Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington, DC, 1999. Reprint of Longmans, Green, New York, 1944 edition. ISBN 1-56098-368-X


  1. ^ "Author and Longtime MAA Member Constance Reid Dies at 92 | Mathematical Association of America".
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h "Reid, Constance 1918–2010". Contemporary Authors. Vol. 149 (New Revision Series ed.). Gale Research. 2006. pp. 353–355. ISBN 978-0-7876-7903-3.
  3. ^ Reid, Constance (1996). Julia: A life in mathematics. Washington, DC: Mathematical Association of America. ISBN 0-88385-520-8.
  4. ^ Reid, Constance (2006) [1955]. From Zero To Infinity (5th ed.). A K Peters. ISBN 978-1-56881-273-1.
  5. ^ a b Donald J. Albers and Gerald L. Alexanderson, ed. (1985). "Constance Reid". Mathematical People. Contemporary Books. pp. 269–280. ISBN 0-8092-4976-6.
  6. ^ a b "JPBM Communications Award Presented in Baltimore" (PDF). Notices of the American Mathematical Society. Providence, RI: American Mathematical Society. 45 (5): 612–613. May 1998. ISSN 0002-9920. Retrieved 2008-06-07.
  7. ^ a b c d e "Being Julia Robinson's Sister" (PDF). Notices of the American Mathematical Society. Providence, RI: American Mathematical Society. 43 (12): 1486–1492. December 1996. ISSN 0002-9920. Retrieved 2008-06-07.
  8. ^ "The Mathematical Association of America's George Pólya Award". Mathematical Association of America. Retrieved 2008-06-07.
  9. ^ "The Mathematical Association of America's Beckenbach Book Prize". Mathematical Association of America. Retrieved 2008-06-07.
  10. ^ Reviews of From Zero to Infinity:
    • Belle, Vaishak (June 2011). ACM SIGACT News. 42 (2): 10–11. doi:10.1145/1998037.1998040. S2CID 36802636.{{cite journal}}: CS1 maint: untitled periodical (link)
    • Gibb, E. Glenadine (February 1957). The Mathematics Teacher. 50 (2): 178. JSTOR 27955358.{{cite journal}}: CS1 maint: untitled periodical (link)
    • Godshall, Lynn (July 2007). "Review". Convergence.
    • Goodstein, R. L. (October 1961). The Mathematical Gazette. 45 (353): 259. doi:10.2307/3612812. JSTOR 3612812.{{cite journal}}: CS1 maint: untitled periodical (link)
    • Hamilton, J. M. C. (1960). Mathematics Magazine. 34 (1): 43–44. doi:10.2307/2687853. JSTOR 2687853?. MR 1571022.{{cite journal}}: CS1 maint: untitled periodical (link)
    • Hoagland, Kayana (April 2008). The Mathematics Teacher. 101 (8): 622–623. JSTOR 20876226.{{cite journal}}: CS1 maint: untitled periodical (link)
    • Leamy, John (March 1993). The Mathematics Teacher. 86 (3): 265. JSTOR 27968284.{{cite journal}}: CS1 maint: untitled periodical (link)
    • Lozano-Robledo, Álvaro (May 2006). "Review". MAA Reviews. Mathematical Association of America.
    • Papp, F.-J. (2006). MathSciNet. MR 2198198.{{cite journal}}: CS1 maint: untitled periodical (link)
    • Siegel, Murray H. (February 2007). Mathematics Teaching in the Middle School. 12 (6): 350. JSTOR 41182422.{{cite journal}}: CS1 maint: untitled periodical (link)
    • Singmaster, David (1993). MathSciNet. MR 1154796.{{cite journal}}: CS1 maint: untitled periodical (link)
  11. ^ Stone, Marshall H. (1978). "Review of Courant in Göttingen and New York: The Story of an Improbable Mathematician by Constance Reid" (PDF). Bull. Amer. Math. Soc. 84 (2): 234–241. doi:10.1090/s0002-9904-1978-14463-2.
  12. ^ Reviews of The Search for E. T. Bell:
    • Dudley, Underwood (May 1994). The College Mathematics Journal. 25 (3): 253–254. doi:10.2307/2687660. JSTOR 2687660.{{cite journal}}: CS1 maint: untitled periodical (link)
    • Hibbs, A. R. (Fall 1993). "Review" (PDF). Engineering & Science. pp. 37–38.
    • Leamy, John (May 1994). The Mathematics Teacher. 87 (5): 383. JSTOR 27968898.{{cite journal}}: CS1 maint: untitled periodical (link)
    • Lewis, Albert C. (February 1995). Historia Mathematica. 22 (1): 78–80. doi:10.1006/hmat.1995.1008.{{cite journal}}: CS1 maint: untitled periodical (link)
    • Mazzeo, Rafe (1994). MathSciNet. MR 1241425.{{cite journal}}: CS1 maint: untitled periodical (link)
    • McGuire, Patrick L. (December 2015). "Review". The New York Review of Science Fiction. No. 328.
    • Mullen, R. D. (March 1994). "Review: Two poets and an engineer". Science Fiction Studies. 21 (1): 103–112. JSTOR 4240311.
    • Pritchard, Chris (November 1994). The Mathematical Gazette. 78 (483): 352–353. doi:10.2307/3620221. JSTOR 3620221.{{cite journal}}: CS1 maint: untitled periodical (link)
    • Scriba, C.J. zbMATH. Zbl 0859.01015.{{cite journal}}: CS1 maint: untitled periodical (link)
    • Stableford, Brian (Spring 1994). "Foundation: The International Review of Science Fiction": 112. {{cite journal}}: Cite journal requires |journal= (help)