Dan Pedoe (1910–1998) was an English-born mathematician and geometer with a career spanning more than sixty years. In the course of his life he wrote approximately fifty research and expository papers in geometry. He is also the author of various core books on mathematics and geometry some of which have remained in print for decades and been translated into several languages. These books include the three-volume Methods of Algebraic Geometry (which he wrote in collaboration with W. V. D. Hodge), The Gentle Art of Mathematics, Circles: A Mathematical View, Geometry and the Visual Arts and most recently Japanese Temple Geometry Problems: San Gaku (with Hidetoshi Fukagawa).
Dan Pedoe was born in London in 1910, the son of an immigrant from Poland who found himself in London in the 1890s. His father had boarded a cattleboat not knowing whether it was bound for New York or London so his final destination was one of blind chance. Dan Pedoe's mother was the only child of a corn merchant from Łomża (part of Poland under Russian control). "Danny" was the youngest child in a family of some thirteen children and his childhood was spent in relative poverty in the East End of London. As a schoolboy he attended the Central Foundation Boys' School where he was first influenced in his love of geometry by the headmaster Norman M. Gibbins and a textbook by Godfrey and Siddons. He was successful at the "ten plus" examination and subsequently won a Scholarship to study mathematics at Cambridge University.
Cambridge, Princeton and Hodge
During his first three years at Magdalene College, Cambridge, where he was a scholar, he was tutored in mathematics by Frank P. Ramsey. In 1935 he took a break from Cambridge and went to Princeton University where he was made a member of the Institute for Advanced Study and worked with Lefschetz. His PhD was based on H. F. Baker's work on the Italian theory of algebraic surfaces. Hodge and Baker were his PhD examiners at Cambridge.
In 1941 a collaboration with Hodge started which lasted some twelve years and included the writing of the huge three-volume work, Method of Algebraic Geometry. Although the book was originally designed as a geometric counterpart of G. H. Hardy's A Course of Pure Mathematics it was never intended as a textbook and contains original material. First published in the 1940s, all three volumes were reprinted by Cambridge University Press in 1995.
University of Southampton and Freeman Dyson
In 1936 he was appointed a member of the mathematics department at the University College, Southampton. In 1941, on the request of Winchester College he was asked to assist with the teaching of mathematics. By this time he had married Mary Tunstall, an English geographer and in addition to a young daughter Naomi had identical twin sons, Dan and Hugh. He taught a number of classes and in the top class one of the students was the twelve-year-old Freeman Dyson who showed enormous early talent and was strongly encouraged by Dan Pedoe with extra work and reading. Their friendship lasted more than fifty more years until Dan Pedoe's death in 1998 and Freeman Dyson's list of people who have most influenced him begins "Hardy, Pedoe...".
In 1942 Dan Pedoe moved to Birmingham and taught at the University of Birmingham until 1946. Most of the work was in engineering mathematics. During this period he was enlisted in the war effort to improve piston rings with the goal of emulating the dive-bombing tactics of the Nazis.
In 1952 Dan Pedoe moved to the Sudan to take up a position at the University of Khartoum where he stayed for seven years: the length of his contract. It was during this period that he wrote many of his books including The Gentle Art of Mathematics, Circles and a textbook, An Introduction to Projective Geometry.
In 1962 he moved again to Indiana to take up a position at Purdue University. One of the positions he held there was as Senior Mathematician to the Minnesota College Geometry Project. The idea of the project was to improve geometry teaching in high schools and colleges by making films and writing accompanying books.
Pedoe's interest and work continued after his retirement and in 1984 he was approached by Hidetoshi Fukagawa, a high-school teacher in Aichi, Japan. Fukagawa had tried unsuccessfully to interest Japanese academics in San Gaku – Japanese wooden tablets containing geometric theorems which had hung in temples and shrines for around two centuries as offerings to the gods.
A collaboration started which resulted in the publication of the book, Japanese Temple Geometry Problems by the Charles Babbage Research Centre in Canada. The book succeeded in arousing interest in this uniquely Japanese form of mathematics.
Dan Pedoe died in 1998, aged 88, after a long period with failing health. He was survived by his twin sons, Dan and Hugh Tunstall-Pedoe, and six grandchildren.
A collection of Dan Pedoe's papers and correspondence throughout his life is to be found at the University of Birmingham archive centre.
- "In Love with Geometry", Daniel Pedoe, College Mathematics Journal, 1998, Volume 29 pp. 170–188.