Cool math books

Straight-up math books:

  1. ‘Understanding Analysis’ by Abbott
  2. ‘The Art of Proof’ by Beck
  3. ‘Contributions to the Founding of the Theory of Transfinite Numbers’ by Cantor
  4. ‘What Is Mathematics?’ by Courant & Robbins
  5. ‘The Mathematical Experience’ by Davis and Hersh
  6. ‘Introduction to Mathematical Thinking’ by Devlin
  7. ‘Journey Through Genius: The Great Theorems of Mathematics’ by Dunham
  8. ‘One Two Three … Infinity’ by Gamow
  9. ‘Book of Proof’ by Hammack
  10. ‘Mathematics: a Human Endeavor’ by Jacobs
  11. Mathematics and the Imagination’ by Kasner and Newman
  12. ‘Surreal Numbers’ by Knuth
  13. ‘The Pleasures of Counting’ by Korner
  14. ‘Proofs and Refutations: The Logic of Mathematical Discovery’ by Lakatos, Worall, and Zahar
  15. ‘The World of Mathematics’ by Newman
  16. ‘Numbers: Rational and Irrational’ by Ivan Niven (as well as other stuff in this series)
  17. ‘The Gentle Art of Mathematics’ by Pedoe
  18. ‘The Mathematical Tourist’ by Peterson
  19. ‘Mathematical Snapshots’ by Steinhaus
  20. ‘The Joy of x: A Guided Tour of Math, from One to Infinity’ by Strogatz
  21. ‘Mind Tools: the five levels of mathematical reality’ by Rucker
  22. ‘Math Girls’ by Yuki
  23. Math on Trial: How Numbers Get Used and Abused in the Courtroom by Leila Schneps

Other Resources:

  1. Jump Math (for kids)
  2. Khan Academy
  3. Keith Devlin’s Coursera course “Introduction to Mathematical Thinking”
  4. A math book list for kids
  5. Martin Gardner’s stuff (this for example)
  6. ‘Men of Mathematics’ by Bell, if you like soap operas featuring math
  7. ‘Gödel, Escher, Bach: an Eternal Golden Braid’ by Hofstadter, if you like philosophy
  8. ‘A Mathematician’s Apology’ by Hardy

Please comment on this page if you have something to add. Also feel free to give your opinions on the above, since I haven’t actually read them.

  1. December 1, 2012 at 9:33 am

    Morris Kline has a number of well-regarded overview books. I’m most familiar with the excellent ‘Mathematics in Western Culture’, but see also ‘Mathematics for the Nonmathematician’, which is a textbook for a liberal arts course in mathematics. For something more specific in focus (though still remarkably wide-ranging), Petr Beckmann’s ‘A History of Pi’ is highly recommended.

    There are some marvellous books in the list already. ‘What Is Mathematics?’ is an excellent starting point for a self-learner. ‘Proofs and Refutations’ and ‘The Mathematical Experience’ should be required reading for all working mathematicians.

  2. suevanhattum
    December 1, 2012 at 10:20 am

    How could I forget Math Girls?! Anime-style story line, and real math. I plan to re-read it this December, to see if I can understand why the sum of the alternating harmonic series is pi2/6. I just looked up the website (bentobooks.com) and found out that Math Girls 2 will be out in December. Perfect holiday gift for me!

  3. December 1, 2012 at 11:50 am

    The Joy of X is based on a New York Times series of a couple of years ago. I just received the book and haven’t gotten a chance to read it yet but did read the series. The series was great and I expect the book to be too. But in the interest of full disclosure, Steven Strogatz is a friend. A great book (not written by a friend—I don’t even know him) that I’m about a third of the way through is Math in 10 Lessons: The Grand Tour. It’s a pure mathematics book that tries to show those in the humanities, as well as scientists and other non- mathematicians, how mathematicians view their discipline.

  4. December 1, 2012 at 3:51 pm

    Ummm… thanks for the spelling correction, but surely you don’t have to be nasty. Khan Academy is an amazing site, and he really started something which I for one appreciate as a mother. My oldest son learned a lot of physics from him.

    • Michael Paul Goldenberg
      December 2, 2012 at 8:41 am

      Where was I nasty? Because I suggested that there are far better math vids and named some?

      • Ross
        January 13, 2013 at 10:49 pm

        “Surely you can do better” comes off, at best, as a bit haughty. Worse, it seems a bit snotty, condescending, patronizing, or all three. ( I suppose it could have been delivered innocently, by assuming the exact right “tone”, but the first reaction is to take it as described; your reply indicates that’s correct.)

    • Spicyrunner
      March 24, 2013 at 11:08 pm

      I LOVE LOVE LOVE KhanAcademy.org. I’m a neuropsychologist assessing children with learning problems…and having such high quality *tutoring* available for FREE is a Godsend for the kiddos I work with. My kiddos just want to know HOW to solve the problems on their homework!!!!

  5. Charles monneron
    December 1, 2012 at 7:47 pm

    “Meta math, the quest for Omega” by Gregory Chaitin is as mind bending than GEB

  6. Nikki
    December 2, 2012 at 12:35 pm

    Surreal Numbers was my very first cool math book, recommended by the same French mathematician who told me about the Nicolas Bourbaki. More recently I enjoyed reading Poincare’s Conjecture.

  7. Silvia Adduci
    December 6, 2012 at 7:23 am

    Have you tried The Puzzling Adventures of Dr Ecco, by Dennis Shasha?

  8. rustam
    December 7, 2012 at 12:10 am

    I suggest you add “Who Is Fourier?: A Mathematical Adventure” to your list.

  9. January 7, 2013 at 4:07 am

    Late to the party, I suggest “The enjoyment of Mathematics” by Rademacher&Toeplitz, maybe old fashioned but I remember having a lot of fun .

    • Luis
      June 29, 2014 at 7:12 pm

      Rademacher & Toeplitz is in the top 20. They are not afraid of tackling intricate topics and bringing them down to high school level (that is, good high school). But I must say that these expositions never get old fashioned – only Hollywood does.

  10. pdtillman
    January 14, 2013 at 1:58 pm

    Do you have a recommendation for a good introduction to Bayesian statistics? I’m particularly interested in comparing Bayesian vs. frequentist statistics. And my statistical skills are pretty rusty ;-[

    TIA, Pete Tillman
    Consulting Geologist (retired), Arizona and New Mexico (USA)

    • January 14, 2013 at 3:37 pm

      Try Gelman’s book, Bayesian Data Analysis. He also writes a blog .

      • pdtillman
        January 15, 2013 at 2:23 pm

        Thanks!

    • charles
      March 2, 2013 at 2:21 am

      Try Probability Theory: The Logic of Science by E. T. Jaynes. It’s a great read and has a very good introduction to probability. The math gets heavy pretty quickly but the text alone is worth the book.

      John Kruchke’s book Doing Bayesian Anaysis is a first rate tutorial suitable for those of us who don’t think in intregals.

  11. Albanius
    January 16, 2013 at 4:04 pm

    Euler’s Gem: The Polyhedron Formula and the Birth of Topology by Richeson
    The Fractal Geometry of Nature by Mandelbrot
    How to Solve It by Polya
    How to Lie with Statistics by Huff and Geis

  12. January 29, 2013 at 12:21 am

    I think the best Book I’ve seen on teaching “proof” so far is “A Transition to Advanced Mathematics” by D. Smith et al. We used this for My “Foundations of Mathematics” course in college. And I still reference it! . What do you think?

  13. Krishnan
    February 11, 2013 at 8:32 pm

    Books by John Allen Paulos (Innumeracy for example)

  14. charlie
    February 14, 2013 at 12:36 pm

    What about “God Created Integers” by Stephen Hawking?

  15. February 14, 2013 at 5:01 pm

    You might also consider From Zero To Infinity by Constance Reid.

  16. February 18, 2013 at 5:10 pm

    I would also add ‘A Radical Approach to Lebesgue’s Theory of Integration’ by Bressoud. This is a textbook on measure and integration, but the historical progress of the theory is told as the subject matter develops. A good complement to #3 might be ‘Georg Cantor’ by Dauben. I haven’t read #3, but this book gives a great detailed look into the work of Cantor, without being too technical, and also looks at his life.

    • Higby
      May 9, 2013 at 4:57 pm

      Yeah, the historical perspective — always missing in under/grad courses.

      Typically, math concepts are presented as ex nihilo. But when you look more deeply, you see how it is cobbled together from bits of this and parts of that.

  17. JJ
    February 21, 2013 at 9:34 am

    Bob Moses & Charles Cobb. Radical Equations: Civil Rights from Mississippi to the Algebra Project. Beacon Press, 2002.

    http://www.algebra.org/

    Jeffrey Isaac. 1999. “The Algebra Project & Democratic Politics,” Dissent (Winter).

    Highly recommended for trying to draw the analogy between the importance of verbal literacy to the struggle for voting rights in the 1960s and the importance of math literacy for poor/minority kids in contemporary America – if, of course, we hope them to have the opportunities of political & economic citizenship. Ella Baker meets quadratic equations.

    The project has been running since the mid-1980s and raises all sorts of interesting political issues (hence the Isaac piece) but gets relatively little attention.

  18. Phil H
    February 26, 2013 at 5:23 am

    “The Princeton Companion to Mathematics” edited by Gowers, Barrow-Green and Leader.

  19. Louis Bruno
    March 4, 2013 at 12:02 pm

    I just came across your list (and site) and would like to suggest a few title I have enjoyed. One of the first books to get me interested in math was “Fermat’s Last Theorem” by Simon Singh, followed by several of Martin Gardner’s articles and books, “In Code” by Sarah Flannery, and several large reference-style compendiums that prove quite useful in trying to get a handle on new subjects, “Mathematics, From the Birth Of Numbers” by Jan Gullberg, “The VNR Concise Encyclopedia Of Mathematics” by W. Gellert et al, Martin Gardner’s :The Colossal Book of Mathematics:, and Dr. Richard Elwes’s “Mathematics 1001″.

    Most recently, I just finisthed Nate Silver’s “The Signal and The Noise” and “Connected” by Nicholas A. Christakis.

    I hope these suggestions help a bit and the site continues to provide such an interesting contribution to a fascinating subject.

  20. March 20, 2013 at 12:48 am

    I love this book God Created Integers by Stephen Hawking

  21. May 5, 2013 at 4:09 pm

    This is my favorite – ‘A Million Random Digits with 100,000 Normal Deviates’. Not for the book but for the good read in Amazon’s comments about it.

  22. Glen S. McGhee
    May 10, 2013 at 9:07 am

    Donald MacKenzie, Statistics in Britian 1865 – 1930: The Social Construction of Scientific Knowledge (1981).

    Galton, Pearson, and Fisher were all eugenists — it should never be forgotten that Galton’s statistics first emerged as a powerful rhetorical device for the advancement and promotion of the eugenics movement, and for the justification of mass sterilizations of inferior classes. Unfortunately, one group did in fact succeed on such a massive scale that it still horrifies and haunts humanity.

    Does anyone remember Florence Nightingale’s rose chart? “In 1859 Nightingale was elected the first female member of the Royal Statistical Society and she later became an honorary member of the American Statistical Association” (wikipedia).

  23. May 19, 2013 at 1:21 pm

    Brian Butterworth, The Mathematical Brain;

    Graham Farmelo, ed., It Must Be Beautiful: Great Equations of Modern Science;

    Robert Kaplan, The Nothing that Is: A Natural History of Zero;

    E. T. Jaynes, Probability Theory: The Logic of Science (corrected ed.);

    David Acheson, From Calculus to Chaos.

  24. May 19, 2013 at 1:23 pm

    Glen, I remember Florence Nightingale’s rose chart. Brilliant innovation. You can find it along with other wonderful exhibits in Edward Tufte’s The Visual Display of Quantitative Information (2nd ed.).

  25. Chris
    May 19, 2013 at 9:13 pm

    T. Korner has written several books other than “Pleasures of Counting” that are pretty accessible. His two Fourier Analysis books are written at an mid-undergraduate level, and his game theory book is at an advanced high school/early undergraduate level. Also both are full of fun stories. And very relevant since Fourier methods and their extensions have been so important over the past two centuries in so many fields, both pure and applied.

    I wish I could suggest a good applied computational mathematics book. Sadly I don’t think there’s a great book out there yet. Also it’s a moving target, since the best languages, methods, libraries, and problems change from decade to decade.

  26. May 22, 2013 at 12:56 pm

    Thanks for the list. I emailed some links like Jump Math to my friends. Its really awesome. You did hard job to manage all these great resources here. Keep it up..upper…uppest! :p

  27. Richard L King
    May 27, 2013 at 6:42 am

    Back when the world was young, and I was even younger (about 10), I came across a book called Mathematician’s Delight by W W Sawyer. I can honestly say this book changed my life (very much for the better!).

    I’m glad to see it’s still in print. It’s the kind of thing that should be left lying around innocently to catch the attention of inquisitive young minds, even if it does contain words (such as ‘slide rule’) that have disappeared from common usage!

    Oh yes, the slide rule… another life changer…

  28. Dave Baum
    June 13, 2013 at 10:16 pm

    Thanks for the list of books. I had already read and enjoyed more than a few on the list and now I have several new titles to add to my reading queue.

    One additional suggestion is “The Math Book” by Pickover. It’s more history than mathematics, but can serve as a great (albeit brief) introduction to numerous topics. The illustrations are wonderful. For bonus points read it concurrently with “The Physics Book”.

  29. June 18, 2013 at 10:27 am

    I would agree with Dave about The Math Book: From Pythagoras to the 57th Dimension, 250 Milestones in the History of Mathematics by Clifford A. Pickover. It’s definitely worth a read and is a good one to recommend to people.

    As is Math on Trial: How Numbers Get Used and Abused in the Courtroom. Which I found to be a fascinating read and the tension really grips you.

  30. Zathras
    July 15, 2013 at 1:31 pm

    I just came across this post. To the list I would add Conceptual Mathematics: A First Introduction to Categories:

    No other book I know of gets students involved in the deep issues of math earlier than this one.

  31. David B. Chorlian
    August 5, 2013 at 2:50 pm

    W.K. Clifford’s _The Common Sense of the Exact Sciences_. In my previous existence as a high school math teacher I was always looking for ways to get beyond the purely manipulative approach featured in most textbooks to bring some insight into mathematical thinking. This book is one of the best.

  32. Reuben Shiffman
    October 8, 2013 at 10:13 am

    Please recommend an introductory textbook on statistics and probability. Many thanks, RS

  33. October 8, 2013 at 8:18 pm

    Wonderful – for general math problems, Knuth’s first volume (Computing?) has more problems with a breadth of difficulty, from 8th grade arithmetic to Fermat’s last theorem (unsolved when he published). For some philosophy with statistics & probability, Polya’s Mathematics and Plausible Reasoning volumes one and two (he show data proving that the different number of spots on a die “loads” it, I’ve forgotten who rolled 12 dice more than 23,000 times, but it’s covered with the requisite probability calculations – then he forgets to tell you why this was done in the first place. Then Gamma (Euler’s Constant) by Havil and The Story of sqrt(-1) by Nahim. The last two cover the history of both concepts (and Nahim debunks the importance of factoring x^2+1=0 as motivatomg “imaginary” numbers).

  34. October 11, 2013 at 1:38 pm

    ‘What Is Mathematics?’ by Courant & Robbins – My all-time favorite.

  35. Farrukh
    October 23, 2013 at 1:10 am

    I was going to suggest WW Sawyer’s books as well but you beat me to it! I had a friend in high school who hated math and had a lot of trouble understanding the abstract stuff. He read “A Mathematician’s Delight” and magically fell in love with math! Hard to believe, but it’s a true story.

    Richard L King :
    Back when the world was young, and I was even younger (about 10), I came across a book called Mathematician’s Delight by W W Sawyer. I can honestly say this book changed my life (very much for the better!).
    I’m glad to see it’s still in print. It’s the kind of thing that should be left lying around innocently to catch the attention of inquisitive young minds, even if it does contain words (such as ‘slide rule’) that have disappeared from common usage!
    Oh yes, the slide rule… another life changer…

  36. barry spivack
    October 26, 2013 at 5:26 pm

    Cathy – great blog
    I am looking for a book on time series analysis for the layman. Can you recommend something?Thanks

  37. November 29, 2013 at 2:11 pm

    The book that I like the most among those enlisted above is ‘What Is Mathematics?’ by Courant & Robbins. Thanks for sharing the links.

    Khan Academy has always served me as a wonderful resource. I recommend it to my kiddos so often.

  38. December 1, 2013 at 6:58 am

    I’d suggest adding “Wolfram MathWorld” — the online compendium on mathematics: http://mathworld.wolfram.com . Not entertaining, but amazingly thorough. And it’s free!

  39. Albanius
    December 12, 2013 at 9:03 am

    Love and Math, by Edward Frenkel (just published, late 2013), intertwines an exciting autobiography (struggling through antisemitism, excluded from Moscow State U in the 1980s USSR, getting an exit visa to be a visiting prof at Harvard at age 21 while still an undergraduate!) with a serious effort to explain his research in the Langlands program for the general reader. Much more math than most popular math book, especially in the endnotes.

  40. January 20, 2014 at 2:21 pm

    What about Mathematics for the Millions by Hogben or Thompson’s Calculus for the common man. In fact the entire series of Books on Mathematics for the Common man are fantastic

  41. Phil Harmsworth
    January 28, 2014 at 6:24 am

    Kasner and Newman’s ‘Mathematics and the Imagination’ – old but good (and available as a free download at archive.org). Really inspired me as a kid.
    Cundy and Rollet ‘Mathematical Models’. Ditto.
    Fuse ‘Unit Polyhedron Origami’
    Yandell ‘The Honors Class Hilbert’s Problems and Their Solvers’
    Dars, Lesne and Papillault ‘The Unravellers Mathematical Snapshots’. This one is more about mathematicians than mathematics. It’s look at the mathematicians at the IHÉS: if you can’t go there, this is the next best thing.

  42. Jim Netter
    March 12, 2014 at 10:10 am

    A few of my non-technical favorites that haven’t been mentioned:
    Dunham’s “Mathematical Universe” and “Euler: The Master of Us All”
    Mandelbrot: “The Fractal Geometry of Nature”
    Derbyshire (yes, I know): “Prime Obsession” and “Unknown Quantity”
    Eli Maor: “Trigonometric Delights”, “To Infinity and Beyond”, “e: The Story of a Number”
    Kanigel’s Ramanujan biography
    Edna Kramer’s “Nature and Growth of Modern Mathematics”
    various titles by Raymond Smullyan and Ian Stewart
    and a seconding for the works of Martin Gardner – I’m rereading his collection “Penrose Tiles and Trapdoor Cyphers” and it’s way cool

  43. Tim McGrath
    May 4, 2014 at 11:50 pm

    Kalid Azad at BetterExplained.com does a great job of presenting the subject on an intuitive level.

  44. Jay
    May 13, 2014 at 11:25 am

    Courant and Robbins was my great introduction to math when I was in junior high. The Laktos book I read many years later. Although I was a math major, it discusses many topics in proving things that had worried me in my courses. I would add Gödel’s Proof by Nagel, Newman and Hofstadter. An update of a monograph from the ’60s, it presents a very understandable explanation of the First Incompleteness theorem. Another book, Incompleteness by Goldstein, covers much of the same ground but weaves in the philosophical implications of the theorem and some biographical background on Godel.

  45. warrack
    June 27, 2014 at 1:53 pm

    Stanislaw Ulam’s “Adventures of a Mathematician” is one of the most fascinating books I ever read. Also Littlewood’s “A Mathematician’s Miscellany” is, in my opinion, rather more interesting than his friend Hardy’s “Apology”.

  46. warrack
    June 27, 2014 at 2:00 pm

    Also Tim Gowers’s “A Very Short Introduction to Mathematics” is a tour de force, and beautifully written. He once amusingly commented that his Princeton Companion might also be titled “A Very Long Introduction to Mathematics”

  47. Aaron Silberstein
    July 3, 2014 at 3:28 pm

    “Math on Trial” was written by Schneps and Colmez :)

  48. Colin Davies
    September 26, 2014 at 5:23 pm

    How about Danica McKellar’s books?

  49. Aaron Lercher
    October 1, 2014 at 4:22 pm

    Symmetry by Hermann Weyl

  1. December 1, 2012 at 8:05 am
  2. January 8, 2013 at 12:46 pm
  3. January 10, 2013 at 10:26 am

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