(Originally posted on http://www.chronicle.com/review/brainstorm/katz)
I knew Mike for many years while I was working at Princeton University Press, which published his book on Fermat in 1973. I was not his editor, but we often talked about books and publishing, which meant a lot to him. But we talked even more about swimming as it was one of his passions, as Stan notes, along with running. I served as Secretary of the Friends of Princeton Swimming for over 15 years, and Mike was one of the two stalwart faculty advisers to the men’s and women’s swim teams (Politics professor Jim Doig being the other), a role much appreciated by the undergraduate swimmers. And he was an avid masters swimmer, favoring the long freestyle distances (though he could also swim a good butterfly), until he switched over to running as his primary activity. I remember being shocked at seeing him, after some months’ interval after that switch, changed physically in such a dramatic way: from having had a physique characterized by broad shoulders and something of a paunch, he had come to have a much slimmer upper-body profile while losing the beer belly entirely! I have never witnessed such an amazing physical transformation in anyone due to change in exercise priorities; Mike himself admitted that he had to get rid of all his old wardrobe and buy a new one to fit his changed body shape. I guess the damage running can do over time must have forced him back into the pool, and it is tragic that he met his end there. But as one who shares a passion for that sport, I figure that Mike himself, like the cowboy who wants to die with his boots on, would have preferred this ending to one occurring in a hospital bed. There are many of us who will have fond memories of Mike to cherish over our years to come and keep his spirit alive among us.