The description Tom Lehrer himself made about the song:

“for further details of the life of Alma Werfel, the reader is referred to her autobiography ‘And The Bridge Is Love’.”

Of all the colorful figures on the twentieth century European cultural scene, hardly anyone has provoked more polarized reactions than Alma Schindler Mahler Gropius Werfel (1879–1964). Mistress to a long succession of brilliant men, she married three of the best known: the composer Gustav Mahler, the architect Walter Gropius, and the writer Franz Werfel.

Her admirers regarded Alma as a self sacrificing figure of inspiration to great artists, many of whom indeed exhibited a remarkable devotion to her.


Historian Oliver Hilmes drawing on a trove of unpublished material, much of it in Alma’s own words, succeeds in evoking the atmosphere of intellectual life on the Continent during the first half of the century.

Hilmes goes on to describe life in émigré communities on both coasts of the United States following the Nazi takeover in Europe.

First published in German in 2004, the biography was hailed as a rare combination of meticulous scholarship and sensational gossip. The whiff of scandal surrounding this reputed muse of geniuses helped make the book a runaway best seller.

New Math

New Math was a brief dramatic change in the way mathematics was taught in American grade schools during the 1960s.

Tom Lehrer wrote a satirical song named “New Math” around the process of subtracting 173 from 342 in decimal and octal.

The song is in the style of a lecture about the general concept of subtraction in arbitrary number systems, illustrated by two simple calculations, and highlights the emphasis on insight and abstract concepts of the New Math approach.

Lehrer’s explanation of the two calculations is entirely correct, but presented in such a way (at rapid speed, with minimal visual aids, and with snide remarks thrown in) as to make it difficult for most audience members to follow the rather simple calculations being performed.

Source: The full ‘New Math’ song by Tom Lehrer animated