Philip J. Davis

Philip J. Davis (January 2, 1923[3] – March 13, 2018) was an American academic applied mathematician.

Philip J. Davis
Born(1923-01-02)January 2, 1923
DiedMarch 13, 2018(2018-03-13) (aged 95)
Alma materHarvard University
AwardsChauvenet Prize (1963)
Lester R. Ford Award (1982)[1][2]
Scientific career
InstitutionsBrown University
Doctoral advisorRalph Philip Boas, Jr.
Doctoral studentsFrank Deutsch
Jeffery J. Leader

Davis was born in Lawrence, Massachusetts. He was known for his work in numerical analysis and approximation theory, as well as his investigations in the history and philosophy of mathematics. He earned his degrees in mathematics from Harvard University (SB, 1943; PhD, 1950, advisor Ralph P. Boas, Jr.), and his final position was Professor Emeritus at the Division of Applied Mathematics at Brown University.

He served briefly in an aerodynamics research position in the Air Force in World War II before joining the National Bureau of Standards (now the National Institute of Standards and Technology). He became Chief of Numerical Analysis there and worked on the well-known Abramowitz and Stegun Handbook of Mathematical Functions before joining Brown in 1963.

He was awarded the Chauvenet Prize for mathematical writing in 1963 for an article on the gamma function,[4] and won numerous other prizes, including being chosen to deliver the 1991 Hendrick Lectures of the MAA (which became the basis for his book Spirals: From Theodorus to Chaos). He was a frequent invited lecturer and authored several books. Among the best known are The Mathematical Experience (with Reuben Hersh), a popular survey of modern mathematics and its history and philosophy; Methods of Numerical Integration (with Philip Rabinowitz),[5] long the standard work on the subject of quadrature; and Interpolation and Approximation, still an important reference in this area.

For The Mathematical Experience (1981), Davis and Hersh won a National Book Award in Science.[6][lower-alpha 1]

Davis also wrote an autobiography, The Education of a Mathematician; some of his other books include autobiographical sections as well. In addition, he published works of fiction. His best-known book outside the field of mathematics is The Thread: A Mathematical Yarn (1983, 2nd ed. 1989), which "has raised Digression into a literary form" (Gerard Piel); it takes off from the name of the Russian mathematician Tschebyscheff, and in the course of explaining why he insists on that "barbaric, Teutonic, non-standard orthography" (in the words of a reader of Interpolation and Approximation who wrote him to complain) he digresses in many amusing directions.

Davis died on March 13, 2018 at the age of 95.[7]



  1. This was the 1983 award for paperback Science.
    From 1980 to 1983 in National Book Award history there were dual hardcover and paperback awards in most categories, and several nonfiction subcategories including General Nonfiction. Most of the paperback award-winners were reprints, including this one.


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