After seeing the passion his first adviser had for her own
collection of math books, Nakao began his own. He built his collection
around titles that are culturally significant to the overall field of
mathematics and titles that hold sentimental importance, like a signed
copy of his late graduate professor’s first published textbook.
But the books in his collection contain far more than just the
lessons printed within them. Nakao’s collection consists of used books
that retain the scribbled notes of their former owners. One notable book
in his collection is a textbook that was formerly owned — and written
in — by Ian Sneddon, one of the most accomplished mathematicians of the
“The margin notes that … mathematicians left in [the] textbooks have
provided unmatched insight that I otherwise could not have found
anywhere else,” Nakao said. “I have benefited from books where the
previous owners made corrections to incorrect statements, rephrased an
author’s confusing choice of words, and referenced other pages elsewhere
in the book.”
The emphasis placed on the stories left behind in the margins influences the way Nakao collects.
The books he has purchased, which he
estimates make up half of his collection, largely come from secondhand
stores. He particularly likes to check bookstores near universities,
where professors occasionally sell their used books.
The other half of his collection are books that have been inherited
from faculty at Seattle University and UD. According to Nakao,
mathematics is “a culture whose foundation rests on the tradition of
inheriting previous mathematicians’ book collections.”
“It is common practice for mathematicians to entrust their libraries
when they retire or pass away to their students and previous
institutions,” Nakao said. “However, as upcoming mathematicians
gradually prefer online texts over hardcopies, it falls upon book
collectors such as me to ensure the knowledge, wisdom and personalities
sketched into books by the former generations survives.”
Nakao takes this charge seriously. While his collection is currently
housed within three locations, one of them is his office on campus.
There, he keeps several titles for himself and his fellow graduate
students to use as an open library for their research and studies.
He considers each book a “piece of the puzzle” that he is trying to complete.
“This puzzle is something abstract and intangible that mathematicians
strive to complete despite knowing its completion is unfeasible,” Nakao
said. But that won’t stop him from trying to complete it piece by
piece, book by book.
Seth Trotter Student Book Collecting Contest
Nakao earned first place in the 2019 Friends of the University of
Delaware Library’s Seth Trotter Book Collecting Contest. The Friends
created the contest to encourage reading and research, the creation of
personal libraries, and an appreciation of printed or illustrated works
for pleasure and scholarship among UD undergraduate and graduate
students. Students can learn more about the 2020 Seth Trotter Student
Book Collecting Contest, including how to submit their applications, here.
Article by Allison Ebner; photo by Sean Diffendall
Published Nov. 26, 2019