Persi Diaconis on his dual passions of magic and mathematics (Video on smushing cards)

Read a terrific profile on Persi Diaconis from the Chronicle Review that begins more like a fantastic, coming of age novel: “Persi Diaconis’s unlikely scholarly career in mathematics began with a disappearing act.”

He was 14 years old and obsessed with magic, spending much of his free time in or around Tannen’s Magic Store, on Times Square, where sleight-of-hand masters regularly gathered to show off tricks and to gossip. There, one of the most influential magicians of the past century, a card maestro named Dai Vernon, saw Diaconis’s prodigious trick dealing and invited the young man to leave New York and join him on the road.

Diaconis vanished from his regular life, dropping out of school and cutting ties with his family. “I packed a little bag—I took some decks of cards and some socks,” remembers Diaconis, now 66 with unruly tufts of white hair, in his office at Stanford University, where he is a professor of mathematics and statistics.

Where do Diaconis’s travels take him? While it may not be too surprising to discover that he grew up to be a renowned magician, it may be slightly more surprising to learn that he ended up being a well-respected mathematician and professor. However, as Diaconis explains — a love of mathematics was a natural outgrowth of his passion for magic. Read the complete profile here: