Reuben Laznovsky (Hersh)

LaznovskyReuben Laznovsky (Hersh), 92, on January 3, 2020, at his home in Santa Fe, N.M. Reuben was born to immigrant Jewish parents in New York, N.Y., on December 9, 1927. Laznovsky was his paternal family name, but it was changed to Hersh after the family immigrated. Late in his life Reuben introduced himself as Reuben Laznovsky as a way to honor his ancestors.

Reuben graduated from high school at 14 years of age, and from Harvard University with a bachelor’s in English literature at the age of 19. He served briefly in the U.S. Military in South Korea prior to the Korean War. Following his military service, Reuben was hired at Scientific American magazine as a mailroom clerk. He worked his way up to editorial assistant before he left that job to become a machinist, joining the working class in keeping with his radical political perspective at the time. Reuben hoped to organize the machinists. His work as a machinist ended in 1957 when he cut off his right thumb in a work-related accident.

While convalescing, Reuben decided to go to graduate school to study mathematics. He graduated with a doctorate in mathematics from the Courant Institute of New York University in 1962. In 1964, he accepted a tenure-track faculty position at the University of New Mexico.

Reuben was an active member of the Religious Society of Friends since 1968, when he joined Albuquerque (N.M.) Meeting. During the 1980s he transferred his membership to Santa Fe (N.M.) Meeting. Reuben was active in Amnesty International as well.

Reuben retired in 1995, but continued teaching until age 80. He was best known for his writings about the philosophy of mathematics. Ulf Persson, a longtime colleague, described Reuben as a “very articulate proponent for the human side of mathematics.”

Reuben wrote or co-authored seven books. He shared a National Book Award in Science for The Mathematical Experience (1981) with coauthor Phillip J. Davis. He coauthored, with fellow faculty member Vera John-Steiner, Loving and Hating Mathematics: Challenging the Myths of Mathematical Life (2011). Vera was Reuben’s companion with whom he lived for 30 years. In 2015, Reuben published a book about his friend and mentor Peter Lax, a well-known mathematician. Humanizing Mathematics and Its Philosophy: Essays Celebrating the 90th Birthday of Reuben Hersh (2017) is a collection of essays by eminent twentieth-century mathematicians, philosophers, logicians, and linguists.

Reuben was predeceased by his ex-wife, Phyllis Hersh; and beloved companion, Vera John-Steiner. He is survived by two children, Daniel Hersh and Eva Hersh; and three grandchildren.

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