Bennett, Deborah J. 1950-
BENNETT, Deborah J. 1950-
PERSONAL: Born August 6, 1950, in Tuscaloosa, AL; daughter of Hal C. (a military officer) and Jean (a computer systems analyst) Bennett; married Michael Hirsch (an actor and composer), June 7, 1987. Education: University of Alabama, B.S., 1972; George Washington University, M.S., 1980; New York University, Ph.D. 1993. Politics: Democrat.
CAREER: Writer. Institute for Defense Analysis, Arlington, VA, staff member, 1973–75; U.S. General Accounting Office, Washington, DC, operations research analyst 1975–80; U.S. Peace Corps, Washington, DC, volunteer in Ghana, 1980–81, consultant, 1981–84; State University of New York College at Farmingdale, Farmingdale, began as instructor, became assistant professor of mathematics, 1984–93; New Jersey City University, Jersey City, NJ, began as assistant professor, became professor of mathematics and secondary education, 1993–.
MEMBER: National Council Teachers of Mathematics
AWARDS, HONORS: Citation among "outstanding academic titles," Choice, 2004, for Logic Made Easy: How to Know When Language Deceives You.
(With Aikey and Guillen) Algebra for All, McGraw-Hill (New York, NY), 1997.
Randomness, Harvard University Press (Cambridge, MA), 1998.
Logic Made Easy: How to Know When Language Deceives You, W.W. Norton (New York, NY), 2004.
SIDELIGHTS: Mathematics professor Deborah Bennett addresses the average individual in her book Randomness. The mathematical concept named in the book's title is key to the disciplines of statistics and probability, to chaos theory, as well as to games of chance. Thus it is a topic relevant to everyone's life, and yet it is a little understood concept. It seems part of human nature to want to be able to predict outcomes, to rely on luck, to make sense of random events, and to otherwise make order of our lives. Bennett seeks to show how randomness makes these things difficult, and why it is a difficult concept for many people to grasp.
In Randomness Bennett explains how our understanding of chance has developed over many centuries. She begins by looking at the ancient uses of randomizers such as dice, bones, and coins to make decisions and seek divine guidance. She traces the scientific analysis of probability, including Galileo's study of dice during the Renaissance and the eighteenth-century development of the bell curve to chart a distribution of events. While such investigations were conducted with the hope of improving our ability to predict events and phenomena, twentieth-century studies such as quantum mechanics and chaos theory seek to prove the truly random nature of our world. Bennett also looks at the average individual's understanding of randomness as a component part of accepted principles of fairness and uncertainty. She discusses how our understanding of probability affects attitudes toward things such as gambling and traveling by airplane.
Randomness received kudos from a variety of sources. A contributor to Kirkus Reviews considered Bennett's work to be "a clear and detailed examination of the role of pure chance, with fascinating historical asides." Writing in Booklist, Patricia Monaghan described Bennett as "brilliantly bilingual" and concluded that the author's insights "make Randomness more than an intriguing exploration of a peculiarly fascinating part of mathematics, and its coverage … makes it comprehensive as well as compulsively readable."
Bennett commented on her motivation to write the book, once telling CA: "I was inspired to write Randomness because of my inherent fascination with things random and because of the difficulty we all have in understanding things probabilistic. As a first-hand observer of students attempting to grapple with notions of chance and as an active instructor attempting to clarify these ideas, I have come to appreciate how difficult some seemingly simple problems can be. As a mathematics educator, my primary motivation is to interpret and convey what might be considered complex ideas as simply as possible. With Randomness, it was my desire to de-mystify probability for the general audience or at a minimum to help them understand that we are all in the same boat. Chance defies intuition."
In Logic Made Easy: How to Know When Language Deceives You, Bennett turns her mathematical mind to what she described to CA as "the often muddy relationship between language and logic." In the book she provides a historical framework of logic in language, beginning in classical Greece and surveying the use of logic as a communication tool to the present day. Library Journal reviewer Manya Chylinski assured readers that Logic Made Easy is not the intimidating treatise that the title might imply, but an "enjoyable" read. A Publishers Weekly contributor specifically noted the author's use of humor to entertain and put the reader at ease.
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
American Scientist, September-October, 1998, J. A. Rial, review of Randomness,, p. 482; November-December, 2004, Keith Devlin, review of Logic Made Easy: How to Know When Language Deceives You, p. 575.
Booklist, April 15, 1998, Patricia Monaghan, review of Randomness, p. 1404.
Choice, July-August, 1998, F. Giesbrecht, review of Randomness, p. 1887; December, 2004, K. Doran, review of Logic Made Easy, p. 674.
Isis, June, 1999, Patti Wilger Hunter, review of Randomness, p. 345.
Journal of Economic Literature, September, 1998, review of Randomness, p. 1545.
Kirkus Reviews, April 15, 1998, review of Randomness, p. 543.
Library Journal, May 1, 1998, Harold D. Shane, review of Randomness, p. 134; April 15, 2004, Manya Chylinski, review of Logic Made Easy, p. 90.
Library Quarterly, July, 1999, Paul Kantor, review of Randomness, p. 392.
Physics Today, January, 1999, Stephen Gasiorowicz, review of Randomness, p. 68.
Politics Today (annual), 1998, review of Randomness, p. 87.
Publishers Weekly, April 13, 1998, review of Randomness, p. 68; March 29, 2004, review of Logic Made Easy.
Reference and Research Book News, August 1, 2004, review of Logic Made Easy, p. 6.
Science News, May 22, 2004, review of Logic Made Easy, p. 335.
Skeptical Inquirer, September, 2000, Mark Durm, review of Randomness, p. 57.