Mathematics For The Masses: An Origin Story
Blue Collar Scholar Books: Making Higher Mathematics and Scientific Education Affordable For All !
What’s BCS and how did it go from being an idle
thought that arrived to me on toilet (no lie) to
being an actual publishing company?
The backstory here is bit interesting and it has to
begin with the path that lead me to beginning this
company. I know, I know-those of you who have
our first published book, Differential Calculus
On Normed Spaces (DCONS) have already read
the origin story and our central directives are
probably bored to tears.
But some stories do bear repeating to set context.
Therefore, semi-quoting from the preface of that book to get started here:
The Quiet Revolution
The quiet revolution I’m talking about is the
burgeoning world of online self-publishing-in
particular, the self-publishing of
academic textbooks. There was a time, not so long
ago, when publishing a mathematics textbook
required a deal with one of the major publishers-
and unless you were a Fields Medal winner at
Harvard, you were basically at their mercy even if
they decided to bless you with a contract for your
They dictated length, what they wanted in the
book, how many graphics, that section’s too tough
for American students, complete ownership of the
copyright for a century if the book was successful-
on and on and on.
After all that pain and suffering, the resulting
text is so expensive, the author can’t even recom-
mend it to his or her own students because they’ll
have to take out a loan to purchase it.
This is why until recently so many practicing
scientists-and mathematicians in particular-
would cringe when you suggested writing a
textbook. Even if writing such a book in their field
was a labor of love for them, the misery of getting
it published sucked all the joy out of it.
The Ghost of American Serfdom Future
Sadly, this is part of a larger social regression
over the last 30 years in America of making
higher education a career necessity
that simultaneously, is purely a profit making
machine with increasingly restricted access to the
children of the non-wealthy. Horrifyingly, with
the charter school/academic reform movement,
this thinking is now spreading to grade &
secondary schools where quality public schools
are rapidly becoming extinct. The result is an
entire generation is crippled with lifelong debt
and steadily diminishing earning prospects.
Meanwhile, the prospects of their children
even being able to read, let alone go to college,
erodes with each new administration. This is a
crisis on both political sides borne of
the increasingly plutocratic nature of our nation.
As someone who was trained at The City
University of New York, this situation makes me
want to put my fist through a wall. The thought of
my future descendants’ subsistence farming in
Pan-Em to survive while wondering what magic
holds the moon up, if it’s really made of cheese
and kneeling to passing Lords and Ladies
of America while they snicker is a nightmare I
wake up consistently from now.
The Mathemagician’s Oath: Our Mission Statement
Education should be a right every citizen
should have a realistic chance at. Therefore, if our
government is being paid off to ensure only
children of the privileged have that right, then it’s
up to us to create alternatives.
I decided that I was going to do what little I could
to ensure that future didn’t come to pass.
From Waiting “Tables” To Publishing Lost Classics
My first attempt was when, as a graduate student,
I began the blog Tables, Chairs And Beermugs .
The title being an ode to Hilbert’s famous quote
and referring to the rather ubiquitous subject
matter of the blog. My health problems and
distractions of my personal life prevented making
the blog successful. Part of the problem was
lack of content focus. I’m turning back to it and
focusing its’ subject matter on purely
Textbook reviews, academic commentary and
research topics. I hope this will not only improve
the blog’s quality, but allow it to attract more
of an audience.
But even so, it wouldn’t make a dent in my stated goals.
The second, much more significant attempt by me to make
a contribution was the massive WordPress website,
Tuloomath, to which I dedicated a year and a half of my
precious life with no formal computer science training
building. The website’s purpose is clear in the name,
which is an acronym for the following mouthful: The
Universal Lyceum Of Online Mathematics. A lyceum is a
library or repository of information. That’s precisely what
this was intended to be: A complete link collection for
quality free sources of study-lecture notes/online textbook
drafts- for impoverished students of mathematics at all
levels from secondary school algebra and geometry to PhD
research topics. Sadly, the response, while positive, hasn’t
gotten the traffic I’d desired.
This is the beginning of the third stage of my contribution
to the revolution.
The Altruistic Capitalist
A slight digression before we proceed: I hope
when you’re online, you’ll check out Tuloomath.
Register at the site, it’s free. (The site at this
writing-May 2018-does need a dramatic
updating and overhaul, which I hope to carry out
late this summer. I have not abandoned this site
by any means.)
Nevertheless, when I finally took the plunge
and decided to begin a publishing company, I had
very clear directives and intentions for it. These
grew out of what I attempted for both the blog and
the website: In our increasingly plutocratic, vastly
unequal and education-privileged country, it’s
becoming an absolute necessity for non-
aristocratic students and self-learners to have
affordable learning resources, primarily
Public education is slowly, intentionally and
systematically being degraded in America with the
remaining State funds being directed to private
schools. As a result, self-education is
consequently going to once again become the only
possible means for the lower classes to achieve
any level of higher education. Tragic as this is, it’s
becoming very clear to anyone paying attention
that low-cost textbooks need to be available to
prevent our world from becoming the feudal
nightmare described above.
Once I made the decision, I was absolutely
obsessed with getting this done as soon as
The Dover Effect
As far as inexpensive university level science
textbooks, particularly in physics and
mathematics, this niche is, of course, far from
empty. The publishing colossus Dover Books has,
of course, for decades been the sole provider of
quality, low cost reprinted paperbacks and has to
serve as the model for anyone attempting to
penetrate this market. As a former student of very
limited resources who relied heavily on Dover
books for my educational tools, I can honestly say
for the most part, they’ve done a spectacular job
of making great sources available again.
Anyone beginning a publishing company in
this particular market even attempting to
realistically compete with Dover is delusional and
doomed to failure, pure and simple. Fortunately,
this is not my intention. I believe this market is
both vastly large and sparsely inhabited with
publishers. Dover has really been the only major
player. As a result. I believe there is more than
enough room for new publishers to grow to
significant profit levels using this model without
even beginning to make a dent in Dover’s bottom
Monopolies are not what capitalism is supposed
to be about. Supplying buyers with choices is very
important, both morally and economically. The
existence of alternatives to Dover without actively
competing with it can only help this market as
long as those alternatives are attempting to bring
something novel and helpful to those academic
Except for one tiny problem. With neither
significant funds or formal business
training/experience, I had absolutely no clue how
to get started.
Birth of Of A Notion
I had all kinds of half-baked ideas at first
for how to launch this thing.
Writing a full-blown calculus textbook, writing a
book of low cost textbook reviews with a guide for
self-study, creating free lectures on You Tube on
various mathematics subjects from high school
geometry to real variables to algebraic geometry.
I considered launching it via the back door, by
creating a progressive politics blog, writing a
stark raving angry book on how the bought off
Democratic party and Hilary Clinton may have
ended Democracy in America long term with their
aristocratically sociopathic, arrogant 2016
campaign-and then piggybacking the publishing
company off the financial and populist success of
that book and blog. This may still happen at some
point, but considering the current political
climate (June 2018 as I write this) I decided to
wait until I had enough resources to flee the
country if I’m declared an Enemy of The State.
(Spending my middle and elderly years in
Guantanamo Bay isn’t really much of a plan for
spearheading a social educational reform
movement in the disciplines which are my
passion. Then again, my old mentor Nick Metas
always said some of the most important and
inspired mathematical research was done by
mathematicians who were political prisoners.
Nothing focuses the mind like 4 walls, darkness
and no future. )
My main problems getting out of the box was
both lack of funds and confidence in my own
The Scholarship Salvage Operation Part 1: Good Intentions
Ultimately, 2 considerations therefore shape
the initial approach of the company.
Firstly, while the existence of self -publishing
platforms has made true authorship a far easier
task then it was in previous generations, writing
an original work under my current circumstances
would have taken several years at least.
Secondly, as a financially strapped student and
a protégé of Nick Metas, I have a long standing
love of older textbooks, particularly out of print
ones. I began researching the current copyright
holders of the book and whether or not it was
available. If the book had been out of print for so
many years, there was a chance the rights could
be obtained very cheaply-indeed, for free if the
book had fallen into the public domain without
anyone noticing. At the same time, I decided to
make up a list of mathematics and science
textbooks I loved that had likewise been out of
print for years or decades and might be obtained
It turns out titles that could be obtained this
way were far fewer then I’d initially hoped. I won’t
go into the details here, but it turns out many
large publishing houses buy out of print title
copyrights with no intention of ever republishing
them. Not that they have no immediate plans, but
would like to at some point-they deliberately buy
the rights with the plan of never republishing
The Scholarship Salvage Operation Part 2: Rage Against The Machine
Apparently, this is done purely for the reason of
preventing independent small publishers, like I’m
aspiring to become, from publishing the works
and making a profit at all. The thinking behind it
is as simple as it is brutal: If these companies
can’t get off the ground in the first place, they
can’t grow to eat into their profits and control of
the market. Think about the sheer autocratic
thinking this betrays. They’re actively and
intentionally sabotaging new companies that
might exist in the future preemptively in the
distant possibility they might become competitive
with them.It’s stunning in its pointless amorality-
even by the sadistic standards of American business.
(Think about this the next time someone decides
to give you the libertarian screed about the power
of the Almighty Free Market.)
Fortunately, this isn’t a standard practice (not
yet, anyway) and some of the books on the list
were available. Even better, some of the older
books were in the public domain. Since I was
beginning with virtually nothing and copyright
was a legal and financial issue, these texts were
the natural and quickest way to begin.
So now here we are-announcing the birth of a
major new and totally different player in
academic textbooks-Blue Collar Scholar. This
publisher will endeavor to not only make
advanced academic books truly affordable for
anyone with nothing else but curiosity and love of
learning as the basis of access, but to be the
beginning of a new populist movement in higher
Who’s Our Target Audience?
The beginning of an answer can be found in yet
another quote from one of my favorite sources:
The two biggest obstacles to the success of the Moore method (or, for that matter, of teaching of any kind) are students who don’t want to be there and students who want to be somewhere else. The two are not the same thing; let me explain. By students who don’t want to be there, I refer to required courses. If a student comes to me and asks my help to learn something that I already know, I am overjoyed. I am sure I can teach it to him, whatever it is, and I expect the process to be pleasant for both of us. If, however, he comes to me and says “I don’t really want to know this stuff, but it’s required that I get a C in it before I can go out and make a lot of money”, then I’m unhappy……….. I dream of the ideal university, full of students who are full of intellectual curiosity. The subset of those among them who take a mathematics course do so because they want to know mathematics. They may be future doctors or chemists or executives in a shirt factory, but, for whatever reason, they want to find out what this mathematics stuff is about, and they come to me free willing and ask me to teach it to them. Oh, joy!-Paul Halmos, I Want To Be A Mathematician
Unpacking the Quote: Geeks, Tourists And Scamstudents
Ok, there’s a lot to unpack here that’s relevant to
my purpose with BCS. (Bear with me.) To Halmos
then, there are essentially 3 kinds of students in
• Geeks who absolutely live for understanding
mathematics and its related subjects.
• Students in other disciplines who, while not mathematics
or physical science students, have the same curiosity and
passion about learning in general. These “tourists” in
mathematics are willing to work hard and try and learn
something new, especially if you can convince them it’ll be
helpful in whatever field they chose.
• Scam-artists who break into the professors’
office to get the final exam the night before,
program the entire textbook in code into their
calculators and know a hundred other ways to
cheat. They mockingly laugh at students that
actually study and try and learn things to get high
marks while they get straight A’s while never
understanding a thing. And sure enough, most get
into Harvard medical, dental or business school
and eventually kill someone through either
cruelty or incompetence before calling their 1000
dollar an hour lawyers .
So Again-Who Is Our Audience?
Group (1) students will always be there and
sadly, they’ll always be in the relative minority.
These students will always buy, beg for and
borrow mathematics books to help them master
the subject as much as time allows, so we can
always count on these students to buy our wares
no matter how well-supported financially they
For the cash-strapped students that literally have
to choose between food and a textbook, textbooks
at the prices I’m offering are literally a lifesaver
for any kind of academic aspiration. These are
really the majority of our target audience. But my
point is that such students will always buy the
books. The lower the cost, the more volumes
they’ll buy on a given subject because all students
of math learn very quickly learning
simultaneously from several textbooks is always
better than one.
Clearly, in the quote above, Halmos is
referring to students of types (2) and (3).
“Students that don’t want to be there” is type (2)
and “students that would rather be somewhere
else” are of type (3).
Granted, I’m not describing these students in
anywhere near as polite a manner as Halmos is.
But having been on the receiving end of such
students’ mocking and watching them be
rewarded so heavily for their evil-well, you can
forgive me for being somewhat tactless.
I would argue that the American
academic system over the last 20 or so
years has virtually eliminated
students of type (2) and heavily
encouraged students of type (3).
The Cheating Game
It would take an entire book-which I hope to
write someday-to fully explain this statement and
all its implications. But Halmos almost certainly
hit the nail on the head about the fundamental
difference between students of type (2) and type
(3): Students of type (2) are true students and
have that most critical requirements for the
mastery of any academic discipline: curiosity.
They want to learn. They enjoy learning, even if
it’s in an area unrelated to their chosen pursuit
and they aren’t initially passionate about.
Students of type (3) aren’t real students. They
aren’t really curious about anything. To them,
learning anything is for suckers. To them, this is a
game they need to play to win at any cost to get to
their real goals:
Money and temporal power.
Because this is a society which doesn’t
encourage honesty or values-it encourages people
to devour each other-such students are rewarded
for cheating any way they can. Because of the
college debt deliberately shackling an entire
generation, most students who aren’t wealthy
simply won’t be able to stay in college no matter
how much they want to learn if they can’t
compete. Therefore, they simply either dispose of
their ethics and join group (3) or drop out.
And most universities couldn’t be happier to
hand those kids A’s and look the other way about
cheating because it’s great for their bottom line.
They get to say they have kids with great GPAs and
get to double tuition accordingly.
An American Rebirth
Ok, getting off my soapbox, one of the major
things I’m hoping to accomplish with BCS is to
encourage creation of students of type (2). By
making math textbooks readily available at very
low prices, you remove one of the largest barriers
to encouraging students who are not math geeks
to learn some math. No non-wealthy pre-med or
business student is going to spend 200-300
dollars on the textbook and study guides in
addition to their tuition to take a calculus class.
But when you make books available cheaply,
you greatly lower the cost barrier for taking those
extra courses. As a result, this in turn motivates
them to do so.
Indeed, that brings us to the other major goal
of BCS- and that’s to encourage self-study among
students of all interests, levels and socioeconomic
status. Between the crushing student debt that
will plague the non-wealthy children of this
nation for a generation and the constantly rising
cost of higher education-and soon, any
education!- it’s very clear that a formal education
is simply an unattainable luxury for any infant
born today to such families.
Therefore, to prevent the dark future I imagined
above, they need to have sources readily available
I believe the Light of Education should be a
birthright of all who walk the Earth. It’s to make
this goal a reality above all that BCS exists.