Lillian Rosanoff Lieber

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Lillian R. Lieber (1886 – 1986)

Lillian Rosanoff Lieber (July 26, 1886 in Nicolaiev, Russia - July 11, 1986 in Queens, New York) was a Russian-American mathematician and popular author.[1] She often teamed up with her illustrator husband, Hugh Gray Lieber, to produce works.

Life and career[edit]

Early life and education[edit]

Lieber was one of four children of Clara and Abraham Rosenberg. Her brothers were Denver publisher Joseph Rosenberg, psychiatrist Aaron Rosanoff, and chemist Martin André Rosanoff. Aaron and Martin changed their names to sound more Russian, less Jewish.[2] Lieber moved to the US with her family in 1891. She received her BA from Barnard College in 1908, her MA from Columbia University in 1911, and her PhD from Clark University in 1914. She married Hugh Gray Lieber in 1926.


After teaching at Wells College and the Connecticut College for Women, she joined the mathematics department at Long Island University (LIU) in 1934, became department chair in 1945, and was made a full professor in 1947; she was at LIU and the Galois Institute of Mathematics and Art in Brooklyn, New York until her retirement in 1954.[1] Over her career she published some 17 books, which were written in a unique, free-verse style and illustrated with whimsical line drawings by her husband. Her highly accessible writings were praised by no less than Albert Einstein, C. J. Keyser, E. T. Bell, and S. I. Hayakawa. Concerning her book, The Education of T. C. MITS, Dorothy Canfield Fisher said:

"This is quite different from any other book you ever bought... full of mathematics and full of humor... also full of a deep, healing philosophy of life, reassuring, strengthening, [and] humane..."[3]

Although Lieber retired from Long Island University in 1954, she continued to write and publish into the 1960s.

Personal obscurity[edit]

Few details of Lillian Lieber's life and career have survived, even at Long Island University. She died in Queens, New York just weeks shy of her 100th birthday. She came from a well-educated Jewish family. Details can be found in the out of print book "Yesterday" that was written by her cousin Miriam Shomer Zunser in the 1930s.[1]

Unusual typography[edit]

In addition to enlivening her books with illustrations by her husband, Hugh Gray Lieber (who was head of the Department of Fine Arts at Long Island University), Lillian often chose an unusual scheme of typography which is self-explained in this example from her Preface to The Education of T. C. MITS:

This is not intended to be
free verse.
Writing each phrase on a separate line
facilitates rapid reading,
and everyone
is in a hurry

T.C. MITS was an acronym for "The Celebrated Man In The Street," a character who, like George Gamow's Mr. Tompkins, served as a device for bringing concepts in higher mathematics and physics to the general public. The MITS character was central to Lieber's populist approach to education, and she often laced her expositions with passages extolling the virtues of the democratic system.

"The Lillian Lieber Standard"[edit]

In her book, The Einstein Theory of Relativity, Lillian Lieber stated her views on the inclusion of mathematics in books intended for "the celebrated man [or woman] in the streets:"

"...just enough mathematics to HELP and NOT to HINDER the lay reader... Many 'popular' discussions of Relativity without any math at all have been written, but we doubt whether even the best of these can possibly give to a novice an adequate idea of what it is all about.... On the other hand, there are many [books on relativity] that are accessible to experts only."

The Cavendish Press in Ann Arbor, Michigan, has adopted Lillian's rule of thumb with some elaboration.[4]


Although her works were broadly influential (including a special paperback edition of The Education of T. C. MITS that was circulated to American servicemen during World War II), they remained out of print for decades. Starting in 2007, publisher Paul Dry has reissued The Education of T.C. MITS, Infinity, and The Einstein Theory of Relativity.[2]

  • 1931 Non-Euclidean Geometry, Academy Press.
  • 1932 Galois and the Theory of Groups, Science Press Printing Company, Lancaster, Pa.
  • 1936 The Einstein Theory of Relativity, Science Press Printing Co., Lancaster, PA.
  • 1940 Non-euclidean Geometry: Three Moons in Mathesis, Science Press Printing Co., Lancaster, PA.
  • 1942 The Education of T. C. MITS, The Galois Institute Press, Long island University.
  • 1944 The Education of T. C. MITS, W. W. Norton and Co., NY, (Revised and Enlarged edition)
  • 1945 The Einstein theory of Relativity, Farrar & Rinehart, NY. (Part I of this edition is the same material published in 1936. Part II was new in this edition.
  • 1946 Modern Mathematics for T. C. Mits, The Celebrated Man in the Street, G. Allen & Unwin Ltd, London, 1st London Edition.
  • 1946 Take a Number: Mathematics for the Two Billion, The Jacques Cattell Press, Lancaster, PA.
  • 1947 Mits, Wits and Logic, (1st Edition) W.W. Norton, NY.
  • 1949 The Einstein Theory of Relativity, D. Dobson, London.
  • 1953 Infinity: Beyond the Beyond the Beyond Rinehart, NY.
  • 1954 Mits, Wits, and Logic, (Revised Edition) Galois Institute Press, Brooklyn.
  • 1959 Lattice Theory; the Atomic Age in Mathematics, Galois Institute of Mathematics and Art, Brooklyn, NY.
  • 1960 Mits, Wits, and Logic, (3d Edition) W. W. Norton, NY.
  • 1961 Human Values and Science, Art and Mathematics, (1st Edition) W. W. Norton, NY.
  • 1963 Mathematics: First S-t-e-p-s, F. Watts, NY.


  1. ^ a b c "Robert Jantzen's webpage on Lieber"
  2. ^ a b "Paul Dry, Publisher of her reissued books"
  3. ^ Bookjacket of the 1944 W. W. Norton Edition of The Education of T. C. MITS
  4. ^ Cavendish Press Web Site, elaboration of the Lillian Lieber Standard Archived 2007-02-12 at the Wayback Machine.

External links[edit]