Obituary: Irving Adler / Teacher, prolific children's author

April 27, 1913 - Sept. 22, 2012

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Irving Adler, a teacher who wrote more than 85 books, most of them for children, about the scientific wonders of life on Earth and the cosmos beyond, died Sept. 22 at a hospital in Bennington, Vt. He was 99.

He had complications from a stroke, daughter Peggy Adler said.

The holder of a Ph.D. in mathematics, and a teacher for 30 years in the New York City schools, Mr. Adler was best known for taking abstruse facts about science and revealing in a lucid, original and engaging way what research had uncovered about man, nature and the universe.

The titles of his books made plain what would be found between their covers, including "Fire in Your Life" (1955), "Time in Your Life," (1955) and "Electricity in Your Life" (1965). One book was called "Air" (1962), another "Storms" (1963) and a third "Oceans" (1962).

He was also the author of "The Giant Golden Book of Mathematics: Exploring the World of Numbers and Space" (1960).

In a review of that book, Robert E.K. Rourke wrote in The New York Times: "Word and picture combine to tell about angles, triangles and polygons; about the famous theorem of Pythagoras; about spheres, cones, cylinders and the regular solids."

"The list looks frightening for young minds," Rourke added, "but the writing is always simple and homespun and readable."

Alone or with others, Mr. Adler produced more than 85 books. His most recent work, an exploration of mathematical biology called "Solving the Riddle of Phyllotaxis: Why the Fibonacci Numbers and the Golden Ratio Occur on Plants," was published this year.

For a period, Mr. Adler was turning out six books a year. At the same time, he appeared to conduct a parallel career as a social activist, in areas that included peace, education and civil rights. He was deeply involved in New York's teachers union.

In a way, it might be said that his activism led to his career as an author. During the McCarthy period, in the 1950s, his membership in the Communist Party cost him his teaching job.

Ultimately, the law under which he and others were dismissed was rescinded and people were reinstated. By then, he was a full-time author, a kind of two-fingered whirlwind of the typewriter.

Mr. Adler was born to Eastern European immigrant parents in New York on April 27, 1913. His birth certificate gave his name as Isaac Adler, but an elementary school clerk decided he should be Irving.

At 11, he entered high school and at 14 he was admitted to the City College of New York. He began teaching in the New York schools at 18. He received a doctorate in math from Columbia University in 1961.

At one point in the 1930s, a Barnard College student volunteered to help him prepare posters for a student demonstration. Nobody showed up at the rally.

He said he learned a lesson: "It is not enough to issue a call for a demonstration. It doesn't materialize unless it is organized."

In 1935, he and the Barnard College student, Ruth Relis, were married. Many of his books were written with her and illustrated by her. Their daughter Peggy also illustrated some of them.

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