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Pushing Limits: Memoir of a Maverick from Soldier to Scholar

ISBN: 9781634893510
Binding: Paperback
Author: Ted Hill
Pages: 496
Trim: 6 x 9 inches
Published: 8/15/2020

Pushing Limits: Memoir of a Maverick from Soldier to Scholar recounts the unique odyssey of a research mathematician who overcame military hurdles at West Point, Army Ranger School and the Vietnam War, and survived many civilian escapades—hitchhiking in Idi Amin's Uganda, fending off sharks in Bahamian reefs, and exploring deep behind the Iron Curtain in a Volkswagen camper.

From ultra-conservative West Point in the 1960s to ultra-radical Berkeley in the '70s, then to genteel Georgia Tech in the '80s, this is the tale of an academic career as noteworthy for its offbeat adventures as for its teaching and research accomplishments. It brings to life the struggles and risks underlying mathematical research, the unparalleled thrill of making scientific breakthroughs, and the joy of sharing those discoveries around the world.


Ted Hill is Professor Emeritus of Mathematics at Georgia Tech, a Distinguished Graduate of West Point's Class of 1966, and a former Army Ranger and Vietnam War veteran who bucked the odds to earn a PhD in mathematics from Berkeley. He has lectured in four languages around the world and is well known for his research in probability, especially Benford's law. He is currently at work on a mathematical theory for the oval shapes of beach stones, as well as several more books, including one on his firsthand adventures in hitchhiking.


"Ted Hill's captivating memoir reveals an intriguing character who is part Renaissance Man, part Huckleberry Finn. Fast-paced and often hilarious . . . [Hill] provides penetrating and impious insights into some of our more revered institutions." - Rick Atkinson, three-time Pulitzer Prize winner, author of The Liberation Trilogy

"Riveting tales from his time in the military, the Vietnam War, Berkeley in the '70s, six Communist countries during the Cold War, and Georgia Tech in the '80s—all retold alongside his academic success and mathematical breakthroughs." - California Magazine

"Picture Indiana Jones as a mathematician . . . This is a remarkable memoir, one unlikely to find its match in the diversity of experiences it describes. Hill is a master storyteller." - Mathematical Association of America

"Thoughtful, funny, and evocative, Ted Hill takes us through a life well-lived . . . An intensely personal story that will appeal to every profession, and to every generation!" - General Wesley Clark, former NATO Supreme Commander

"I loved the book. Extraordinary job of making scenes come alive . . . with great energy and dialog." - David Ignatius, Washington Post columnist and associate editor, author of Body of Lies

"Much more than a chronological replay of the exciting, wacky adventures and events of his life . . . Pushing Limits gave me a glimpse of a world of adventure and challenge, risk and reward, math and military, and right and wrong." - The Cyber Defense Review

"Ted Hill is an original. Mathematician. Adventurer. Activist. His life has seen both his mind and body tested to extremes. . . . Insightful, entertaining and—in a very good way—unlike any other book you will ever read by a mathematician." - Alex Bellos, author of Here’s Looking at Euclid and The Grapes of Math

"Straddling the military and the mathematical worlds, Ted Hill's life is full of contradictions, daring exploits and accomplishments, and outright fun and adventure. A fascinating read." - John Allen Paulos, author of Innumeracy and A Mathematician Reads the Newspaper

"Thirty years [after Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman], Ted Hill's Pushing Limits conveys the exact same sense of exaltation. Ted is a world-class mathematician—and, like Feynman's, his tales are almost unbelievable . . . adventures of an academic set loose in the world." - Bernoulli News

"Ted Hill is unique in having both a very exciting internal mathematical life . . . and an action-filled, adventurous, external life. . . . His natural gift, very rare for mathematicians, of storytelling [makes this] a page-turner." - Doron Zeilberger, winner of MAA Ford Prize, AMS Steele Prize, and ICA Euler Medal

"This [memoir] will thrill and perplex the reader, by the seamless mixture of mind adventure and body adventure, and for the unconventional academic path traveled by its author. Hill perpetually runs into trouble with authorities. . . . A life that touches on the highly exceptional, rich in friendship, thought, and humane warmth." - Mircea Pitici, Cornell University, editor of Best Writing on Mathematics

"This book is a celebration of an unusual odyssey towards a mathematical career . . . [recounting] his days as a West Point cadet, a trainee Ranger, army captain in the Vietnam War, a PhD candidate at Berkeley, a twenty-year itinerant professor at Georgia Tech, and an ambassador of mathematics. . . . Hill is a master storyteller." - Mathematical Reviews

"This insightful and entertaining book's first half covers Hill's military career. . . . The second half tells just about everything you would want to know about the study of mathematics at the highest levels. . . . His determination to pursue problems to their conclusion won my admiration." - The VVA Veteran

"He has always had a maverick side . . . [with] little need for possessions. . . . Like Feynman, [Hill] insists on the need for a real understanding of the fundamental ideas of a problem." - The Mathematical Gazette

"The author's goal is to dispel the notion that mathematicians are stodgy and lead boring, reclusive lives—he succeeds admirably!" - Choice Reviews

"This reviewer has no doubt that in a hundred years or so this autobiography will be read as an attractive, vivid, and generally reliable description of political and academic, in particular, mathematical life in the United States of America in the second half of the twentieth century." - Zentralblatt MATH