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Malba Tahan


Julio César de Mello e Souza (pseudonym) Malba Tahan), lived 79 years (from 1895 to 1974), mostly in Rio de Janeiro. Education: D. Pedro II College, RJ Normal School and RJ Polytechnic School (civil eng.).

At the beginning of the century, it was quite difficult for national authors to publish anything: booksellers and newspaper owners were afraid of being hurt. So, seeking to launch himself as a writer, Mello e Souza decided to create an exotic and foreign figure, the Malba Tahan, and pass as a translator of his tales and books.

Reading the Tales of the Arabian Nights, as a boy, he had fallen in love with Arab culture. Building on this knowledge and improving it with other readings, including Arabic, he built his character. His creation was a rare figure: born in 1885 in Saudi Arabia, a very young man had been appointed mayor of El Medina by the emir; Then he went to study in Istanbul and Cairo; At the age of twenty-seven, having received a large inheritance from his father, he set out on adventurous journeys around the world: Russia, India, and Japan. In each adventure, Malba Tahan always ended up in some ingenious mathematical problem that he masterfully solved.


Malba Tahan

The success of this idea by Mello e Souza was immediate and he ended up writing dozens of books for his Malba Tahan: The Shadow of the Rainbow (his favorite book), Desert Legends, Heaven of Allah, and the very famous. The Calculating Man (which in addition to being translated into several languages, has sold over 2 million copies in Brazil alone and is in its 42nd edition).

Today, the pedagogical value of this work is recognized even internationally. No less deserving of applause is the entertaining creativity of the books by Mello and Souza; the great writer Jorge Luiz Borges placed them among the most remarkable books of mankind.

In addition to producing this vast literary work (Malba Tahan), Mello e Souza found time to write several Mathematics and Mathematics Didactics books.
We can highlight the following aspects of his didactic work:

  • He was a severe critic of the usual didactics of the mathematics courses of the first half of this century (there are episodes of violent discussions in congresses and conferences).
  • He was a pioneer in the didactic use of the history of mathematics, the defense of a teaching based on the resolution of non-mechanical problems and the didactic exploration of recreational activities and the use of concrete material in the teaching of mathematics.
We cannot fail to mention that he was one of the first to explore the possibility of radio and television teaching. We regret, on the other hand, your insistence on spreading ideas associated with Numerology.

Probably owes his interest in teaching to his father and mother, both first-grade teachers. He began teaching early: at age 18, he taught in the supplementary classes at D. Pedro II College. The most important positions he held were: Full Professor at the National School of Fine Arts, Full Professor at the National Faculty of Architecture and Full Professor at the RJ Institute of Education (formerly RJ Normal School).

Bibliography: Jornal Jornal, SP, 1991, Testimony of Mello e Souza to the Museum of Image and Sound.