Mathematics Man, E. T. Bell

Our header picture of E. T. Bell is from the Constance Reid biography on him, taken when he was a freshman at Stanford, then a free college.

Bell was born February 7, 1883, Aberdeen, Aberdeenshire, Scotland and died December 21, 1960, Watsonville, Santa Cruz County, California. He emigrated to the United States in 1902 at the age of 19 and immediately enrolled at Stanford University, Palo Alto, California where after two years he earned his bachelor’s degree. Then there is a 4 year repast before he received he went to the University of Washington in 1908, even his biographer does not why he chose this school, and in 1 year received his masters. Another break, and another school. This time on the side of the country at Columbia University, New York City where in one more year he finished his doctorate.

Immediately after receiving his doctorate, Bell accepted a position back at his alma mater the University of Washington where he taught mathematics until 1926 when received an appointment as professor of mathematics at the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, California.

During the intervening academic years, Bell married and tried his hand as a mule skinner, ranch hand, surveyor, and teacher. He and his wife had one son, Taine Temple Bell, M.D. From 1931 to 1933 he served as president of the Mathematical Association of America.

Asteroid San Jose is at 17 Capricorn 17 trine Asteroid Aberdeen at 17 Aries 21. Reid mentions that Bell felt a strong connection to San Jose and Stanford. Bell is a splay temperament type with a Grand Trine in Earth offset by a preponderance in Aquarius and a Pisces ascendant. He has nothing in fire, splays often are missing one element (only planets count). Marc Jones though agreed with jean Baptiste Morin that was what missing was as important as what was found in the horoscope, and a he wrote that an absence of fire signs was an indication of a person’s underlying need to create experiences for himself — i.e. exactly what Bell did not only in his gap academic years but also in his writing life — and mask a fundamental timidity or desire to evade direct questioning.

Dr. Bell is best known as the author of Men of Mathematics (still actively in print) but he also wrote Mathematics, Queen and Servant of Science (1951 and currently out of print) and a history of Fermat’s last theoremThe Last Problem (1961 out of print). This last book is interesting as it was 33 years later by Dr. Andrew Wiles with an assist from Richard Taylor that Fermat’s theorem was proved.

Bell was a published science fiction author, under the pen name of John Taine. His The Time Stream (1946 also out of print) was the most popular. . Basil Davenport, writing in The New York Times, said Taine was “one of the first real scientists to write science-fiction [and who] did much to bring it out of the interplanetary cops-and-robbers stage.

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