The House That Math Built
May 1, 2015 8:26 AM   Subscribe

If you took a calculus course in college, the name James Stewart may ring a bell. The money you spent on those textbooks went to build "one of the most important private houses built in North America in a long time", a curving concert hall of wood and glass. Stewart died in December, and the house is now on sale.
posted by clawsoon (48 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
 
I used to buy old editions of that textbook on amazon for $6/a piece, and then sell them to the on-campus bookstore for $80-$120/a piece. Thanks James Stewart!
posted by oceanjesse at 8:34 AM on May 1, 2015 [5 favorites]


So has blogging put Accordion Guy in a position to put in a bid?
posted by ocschwar at 8:37 AM on May 1, 2015


MeFi's own James Stewart??!?
posted by Naberius at 8:40 AM on May 1, 2015


Such a beautiful house. Just a liiiiiiiiiiiiiitle bit out of my price range, tho.
posted by xingcat at 8:51 AM on May 1, 2015 [1 favorite]


There was also a Globe and Mail article about the house in 2007.
posted by James Scott-Brown at 8:59 AM on May 1, 2015 [1 favorite]


The house that misery built.
posted by dephlogisticated at 9:03 AM on May 1, 2015 [3 favorites]


"I have never used the textbook, but by all accounts it was terrible. However, I have seen the house that it built, and it is terrific."

actually, the textbook is unimpeachable if what you want is the least common denominator of calculus classes: if you want the least awkward way to explain something to someone who wasn't going to understand it anyway, Stewart is the way to go...
posted by ennui.bz at 9:05 AM on May 1, 2015 [7 favorites]


Naberius, I believe this house is in Canada, not the UK.
posted by aniola at 9:06 AM on May 1, 2015


It really is a wonderful life!
posted by Sangermaine at 9:11 AM on May 1, 2015


Seriously, WSJ? I have to exit the article to see pictures and it takes multiple back clicks to return? This is top notch UX design?
posted by Samizdata at 9:16 AM on May 1, 2015


Too bad this is outside my (credit) limit.
posted by a lungful of dragon at 9:16 AM on May 1, 2015


a lungful of dragon: "Too bad this is outside my (credit) limit."

Not so much. Go in a bank and hand them a note saying "Fill the bag. No dye packs. I have a lungful of dragon."
posted by Samizdata at 9:18 AM on May 1, 2015 [2 favorites]


I attended a dinner party there once (hundreds of gay men). It certainly was memorable. Most of the space felt a bit cold and more like a museum/concert hall than a home. The 'living quarters' were standard high-end modern home.

He was very nice in person.
posted by kevinsp8 at 9:21 AM on May 1, 2015 [6 favorites]


Gosh, I always wondered* why a book about mathematics largely developed before 1700 needed 8 modern editions, updated every three years like it's Lonely Fucking Planet or something. And I wondered why a 1400 page book sells for over $300, when similarly massive tomes sell for $20-30 in other subjects. Well, now I know.

Sadly, this probably only represents a tiny share of the cut, and is probably one of the best results of all the ridiculous leeching that textbook publishers do.

* I actually stopped wondering last year; there's actually a really good report on the Planet Money podcast about why textbooks are so expensive.
posted by Homeboy Trouble at 9:22 AM on May 1, 2015 [5 favorites]


Gosh, I always wondered* why a book about mathematics largely developed before 1700 needed 8 modern editions, updated every three years like it's Lonely Fucking Planet or something. And I wondered why a 1400 page book sells for over $300, when similarly massive tomes sell for $20-30 in other subjects. Well, now I know.

actually, that Stewart got rich off of his textbook is secondary. The real reason why textbooks got so expensive is because US universities turned to cheap temporary labor to teach large numbers of calculus students instead of permanent faculty. Stewart Calculus is essentially a entire calculus class in a box, which can be taught by someone only marginally motivated or capable with minimal effort.

You are paying for a textbook instead of paying for the salary of a professor: both you and the university save money in this arrangement.
posted by ennui.bz at 9:31 AM on May 1, 2015 [13 favorites]


I took Calculus III pretty recently, and pretty much every other class, the professor said, "Stewart [was] a great guy, but I don't like the way this part is written, so pay attention to what I write on the board here. If any of you have the patience and tenacity to do it, write a better book."

It seems like nobody has yet to have that patience and tenacity.

Until now.
posted by mccarty.tim at 9:33 AM on May 1, 2015 [2 favorites]


... which can be taught by someone only marginally motivated or capable with minimal effort.

Hey, we had the same Calculus instructor.
posted by octothorpe at 9:40 AM on May 1, 2015 [3 favorites]


... which can be taught by someone only marginally motivated or capable with minimal effort.

Hey, we had the same Calculus instructor.


Actually, I probably was your Calculus instructor. You start off altruistic, hoping to make a difference and end up handcuffing the students to their final exams without a seatbelt and hitting the curves hard...
posted by ennui.bz at 9:49 AM on May 1, 2015 [2 favorites]


Where is this house in Toronto? Which ravine is it on?
posted by GuyZero at 9:56 AM on May 1, 2015


Wikipedia to the rescue, It's at 194 Roxborough Drive in Rosedale although Google Maps aerial imagery isn't very interesting.
posted by GuyZero at 9:58 AM on May 1, 2015


I went to fundraisers there a couple of times. He had a rule against red wine, because at one of the first events he hosted someone spilled a glass on the net-yet-sealed polished concrete floor. He was a charming person and was very generous with his estate.
posted by sevenyearlurk at 9:59 AM on May 1, 2015


It seems like nobody has yet to have that patience and tenacity.

Yeah, my calculus class actually used Apostol. It's kind of an underground book, you might not have heard of it. I guess Stewart's good too, if you really like mainstream calculus.
posted by officer_fred at 10:01 AM on May 1, 2015 [5 favorites]


Jim Stewart... earned his millions writing calculus textbooks.

DOES NOT COMPUTE
posted by cobra libre at 10:07 AM on May 1, 2015


Here's the MLS listing for interested buyers.
posted by dismitree at 10:08 AM on May 1, 2015


And the Sotheby's listing, complete with video and more info. (Property taxes: $91K/yr.)
posted by clawsoon at 10:22 AM on May 1, 2015 [1 favorite]


Looks as cozy and inviting as living in an airport.
posted by sonascope at 10:31 AM on May 1, 2015 [3 favorites]


Mind you, all the calculus I was able to learn came from a comic book, so I may just be bitter.
posted by sonascope at 10:34 AM on May 1, 2015 [2 favorites]


We actually used Anton's calculus book (doubles as a free weight). I wonder what kind of house he has.
posted by dirigibleman at 10:35 AM on May 1, 2015


You are paying for a textbook instead of paying for the salary of a professor: both you and the university save money in this arrangement.

Students are paying for a professor and a textbook. What they're getting is an adjunct and a class-in-a-box for three to four times what their parents paid for a tenured professor. The university saves money in this arrangement, as does the state that once funded the university. The students aren't seeing much savings.

And this guy gets to build an amazing house. It's kinda like the mansions of the assorted robber-barrons of the guilded age. Incredible to look at, but a little sickening to think how many lives would have been improved by that money in a less corrupt system. I spent north of $4,000 on textbooks for my humanities BA and a JD. That was with the small mercy of the odd course where the only books were classics, well out of copyright and available for less than twenty bucks. I pitty those in engineering or CS who never got that break.
posted by the christopher hundreds at 11:26 AM on May 1, 2015 [8 favorites]


I want to see Silvanus P. Thompson's house.
posted by Reverend John at 11:29 AM on May 1, 2015 [1 favorite]


Hmmm... the Stewart hate is kind of surprising.

I bought my (used) copy for $53 dollars in the late nineties, used it for three different classes, and still refer to it a few times a year. Two of the classes were fantastic, taught by some of the most engaged and engaging tenure-track faculty I've met. One was terrible, but that wasn't really Stewart's fault.

In the ranked list of regrettable purchases, Stewart's book is somewhere around page 300. And that's a pretty awesome house. It's not the most altruistic thing one could spend tens of millions on, but it's not alone in that.

Also, the violin silhouette on the cover finally makes sense. Neat!
posted by eotvos at 11:51 AM on May 1, 2015 [5 favorites]


The Daily Beast writeup is nearly unreadable to me.
posted by rhizome at 12:00 PM on May 1, 2015 [1 favorite]


It's not the most altruistic thing one could spend tens of millions on, but it's not alone in that.

Actually, as it turns out, the terms of his will are donating the proceeds of the sale to a variety of musical charities, non-profits, and educational organizations. (according to the Daily Beast article)
posted by theorique at 12:10 PM on May 1, 2015 [2 favorites]


Wait a minute, 28 mil and no gas stove? I'll pass.
posted by oceanjesse at 12:25 PM on May 1, 2015 [2 favorites]


Hmmm... the Stewart hate is kind of surprising.

Not really. Hands up everyone who had to pay $LOTS for a new book that turns out to be almost entirely the same as the previous edition except the problems are renumbered or more figures are in color. I can't easily find the date of the first edition, but one of the links said that it hit the second edition in 1992 and it's up to the 8th now. Certainly not the worst offender, but still.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 12:58 PM on May 1, 2015 [3 favorites]


Huh, I actually liked Stewart's calculus textbook, I must be some kind of weirdo.
posted by jcreigh at 1:01 PM on May 1, 2015 [1 favorite]


Wow, that house sure differentiates itself with all those curves! He sure tested the limit of what is possible in terms of integrating glass in the design. The architectural style isn't really a derivative of any previous works I can think of.
posted by droro at 1:14 PM on May 1, 2015 [9 favorites]


I imagine while Stewart himself benefits through royalties from the publishing house's shenanigans, he probably doesn't have any real control over how they decide to bilk students.

I recall David Griffiths (author of some pretty well written undergraduate physics textbooks) complaining about such things when I met him several years ago.
posted by Zalzidrax at 1:33 PM on May 1, 2015


Yeah, my calculus class actually used Apostol. It's kind of an underground book, you might not have heard of it. I guess Stewart's good too, if you really like mainstream calculus.

...in a thread where people complain about the cost of Stewart, someone half-jokingly brings up Apostol, whose price is some sort of doubly expensive joke in order to get the equivalent single/multivariable coverage (unless you get the paperback international edition).

Apostol/Spivak might be the calculus book that professors/mathheads want for strong students, but Stewart (well, any of the usual kitchen sinks) is what introductory students actually need for their courses (preferably in older, cheaper, used edition): comprehensive list of topics, extensive list of walked through examples, and a big bag of chug-and-plug questions. You can probably walk into 95% of the calculus sequences in Canada/U.S. and find that everything you need is in the book. [My family probably had 6 copies of various editions of Stewart around at one point because of siblings/parents/friends, etc. I'm now down to a single omnibus volume fetched from a math department cleanup.]

There's really no need for schools to require new editions every 3 years. I think they already license or use homework question banks, so just print your homework off of that and have the students figure out how their own edition's section numbers/titles switcheroo with the course content.

Speaking of underground texts, has anyone studied from or taught out of Kaplan and Lewis v1 and v2? They're free online or as inexpensive paperback copies on Amazon, their coverage looks comprehensive, and they include enough linear algebra for use in the multivariable portion.
posted by The arrows are too fast at 2:03 PM on May 1, 2015 [2 favorites]


So, our department is switching back to Stewart (after having switched to Larson and Edwards). For those of you saying "why do departments insist on switching to the new edition", what's your solution? Suppose we decided to still use the 6th edition of Stewart (which I think is the edition that we were using 4 or 5 years ago, before we switched). The publisher won't send it to us, so the bookstore can't stock it (unless they happen to have a bunch that were available as used copies). Sure, students can try to buy it on Amazon, , and you can hope that there are enough used copies for the entire class, but that doesn't help the students whose financial aid buys their textbooks for them as long as they go through their bookstore.

Basically, once the publisher decides to produce a new edition, the departments don't have a lot of choice but to go along with it.

Also, as an instructor, it is helpful to be able to assign specific problems from the textbook and be assured that students are actually doing the problems you meant to assign (rather than whatever problem #18 was in the previous edition or three). Sure, I could get around that by typing up all the HW problems by hand, but I'd rather spend the time maybe writing a worksheet or revising my notes or typing up solutions etc. It was pretty annoying the semester that I let students use any of the past three editions (of the abstract algebra textbook), and that was with a small class.

(I'm annoyed that we're switching back---Stewart certainly has all the details and all the content, but I don't think it's very readable or accessible for students; some of my colleagues really didn't like Larson & Edwards for Calc III, though, and like buying IBM, you can't go wrong adopting Stewart. But it seems like all the calculus texts from the major publishers are all basically isomorphic, so whatever. It'd be nice to see a slimmed-down text that made innovative choices about what to include when. I met a mathematician earlier this year who had decided that their Calc II classes just weren't going to teach series convergence tests, but instead focus on Taylor series approximations and error bounds etc., without worrying so much about convergence of general series, because that's really what the engineering students need, and then you can push convergence in general to Real Analysis. You may or may not think that's a good idea, but at least it's something different.)

And hey, if you get the one-volume Stewart, it can double as a traction weight in the back of your car.
posted by leahwrenn at 3:08 PM on May 1, 2015 [4 favorites]


Hands up everyone who had to pay $LOTS for a new book that turns out to be almost entirely the same as the previous edition except the problems are renumbered or more figures are in color.

We try to time our edition switches so that we're only switching for Calc I, but the students who took Calc I with the old edition continue to use that edition until they're through with Calc III. Of course, if you don't take your courses one-after-the-other (you take a break, or you retake a course, or whatever), then you may end up having to buy a new book/make friends with someone who has the new edition so you can get the right list of HW problems, etc.
posted by leahwrenn at 3:11 PM on May 1, 2015 [1 favorite]


There's really no need for schools to require new editions every 3 years.

The schools don't require new editions. Unwanted, unneeded new editions are pumped out by the publishers. Schools end up having to go along because used copies of the previous editions disappear after a few years. The used copies disappear because the gazillion-dollar textbooks are, physically, of absolutely shit quality and fall apart after at most three or four years of course use.

I imagine while Stewart himself benefits through royalties from the publishing house's shenanigans, he probably doesn't have any real control over how they decide to bilk students.

All he had to do was not write the new edition, unless he made such a spectacularly bad deal with his initial sale that they could just create new editions willy-nilly without any input from him.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 6:41 PM on May 1, 2015 [1 favorite]


$24,000,000 / ($236.81/book) = 101,347.07 books

Doesn't mean much, I was just curious.
posted by benito.strauss at 11:09 PM on May 1, 2015 [1 favorite]


I had a really lousy calculus textbook. It turned out the author was a professor at our school. I went to another school and saw it there. "Why are they using this horrible book at this school?!" I asked. It turned out the book had a co-author.
posted by eye of newt at 11:54 PM on May 1, 2015 [3 favorites]


It's very beautiful, and very cold, and you're not allowed to touch anything.
posted by Fleebnork at 6:09 AM on May 2, 2015 [3 favorites]


There's really no need for schools to require new editions every 3 years.

Calculus moves fast. There's even a section in the textbook on the change in velocity.
posted by a lungful of dragon at 12:39 PM on May 2, 2015 [1 favorite]


Afaik authors like James Stewart are always complicit in his publisher pumping out new editions every couple years, so regrading his house we're left with the old adage "Behind every great fortune ins a great crime". We need successful open source textbook projects to put these guys out of business.
posted by jeffburdges at 3:00 PM on May 3, 2015 [1 favorite]


ocschwar: "So has blogging put Accordion Guy in a position to put in a bid?"

Joey moved to Tampa about a year ago, so he'd probably pass.
posted by Chrysostom at 9:24 AM on May 5, 2015


« Older "This has been very difficult for me to write."   |   whistleblowers and whistle in bronze, on tour Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments