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10 Spectacular Books about the World of Math I Didn’t Expect to Be So Damn Good!(Seriously)

Updated: Nov 2, 2023

They should already be on every mathematician’s bookshelf.

10 Spectacular Books about the World of Math I Didn’t Expect to Be So Damn Good!(Seriously)

Math. Hate it or love it, you can’t do without it.

The following books will prove to you that math is not the monster you thought it to be. You’ll walk around with geniuses and come to know their intriguing life stories. You’ll feel their pain and triumphs. The history of math (again, not boring) will take you through thrilling twists and turns. The effort to prove mathematical riddles will sound like a quest for a hidden treasure.

Read on, and you’ll understand what I am talking about.

10 Spectacular Books about the World of Math I Didn’t Expect to Be So Damn Good!(Seriously)

The birth of the number zero.

This book will take you on a path down history. A path where a lonely number called zero was shunned by many. Even the famous philosopher Aristotle denied its existence.

“Zero is powerful because it is infinity’s twin. They are equal and opposite, yin and yang.”

Zero was invented in ancient Babylonia. It was rejected by the Greeks. Indian and Arabic mathematicians, however, adopted it. This helped them make strides in the field of math.

In the Middle Ages, the West warmed up to the idea of zero, and this led to the creation of Calculus.

“December 31, 1999, is the evening when the great odometer in the sky clicks ahead.”

One of the most interesting facts from this book is that the Mayan calendar has zero whereas the Georgian calendar doesn’t. This leads to the following confusion.

Did the Millennia start on 1st Jan 2000 or on 1st Jan 2001?

In fact, it started on 1 Jan 2000. Because we have no zero in our calendar, we are stuck with this common misunderstanding.

More history than math, this book is an interesting read and will make you feel sympathy for the number zero.

10 Spectacular Books about the World of Math I Didn’t Expect to Be So Damn Good!(Seriously)

The secret to hiding in plain sight.

Humans are inclined to keep their communication private, whether it is a talk between lovers or a military plan against the enemy.

Singh delves into the history of symbols, codes, and ciphers. From ancient artifacts to modern digital times, they make a very important part of human life.

“While the cryptographer develops new methods of secret writing, it is the cryptanalyst who struggles to find weaknesses in these methods in order to break into secret messages.”

What does this have to do with math, you ask?

Math has as much to do with codes as does language.

In World War 2, Germans were using the Enigma machine to encrypt their military messages. A team put together by the Polish Secret Service was able to crack the code of Enigma by switching to teams led by mathematicians, rather than linguists.

“Codebreakers are linguistic alchemists, a mystical tribe attempting to conjure sensible words out of meaningless symbols.”

According to Simon, the future of encryption belongs to physicists due to the emerging field of quantum cryptography.

Thanks to the brilliant storytelling, you are bound to enjoy this book.

10 Spectacular Books about the World of Math I Didn’t Expect to Be So Damn Good!(Seriously)

No wife, no kids, only math, the story of one man’s crazy dedication.

This book is a biographical account of a great Hungarian Mathematician, Paul Erdős.

Trust me, after you read the first chapter, you won’t be able to put this book down.

The author has a gift for describing surroundings and people in enchanting detail. His vivid descriptions are proof of the fact that he spent 10 years accompanying Erdős. You’ll feel that you are there with Erdős, observing his eccentricity and genius in person.

“Mathematicians, unlike other scientists, require no laboratory equipment…”

I am convinced that Erdős was a man who lived, breathed, and ate mathematics. He had little regard for everything else in life.

He didn’t get married or have other interests.

“He did mathematics in more than twenty-five different countries, completing important proofs in remote places and sometimes publishing them in equally obscure journals.”

Fuelled by coffee, and methamphetamines, he wanted to live every moment in solving mathematical problems. He authored or co-authored 1,475 academic papers, far more than some of the brightest mathematicians.

This book examines the relationship Erdős had with his fellows and colleagues. It also recounts their thoughts and experiences with him.

A sentence that I found especially captivating about one of his friendships was:

“Erdös and Graham were like an old married couple, happy as clams but bickering incessantly, following scripts they knew by heart though they were baffling to outsiders.”

I invite you to pick up this book and spend some time with a peculiar man called Paul Erdős.

10 Spectacular Books about the World of Math I Didn’t Expect to Be So Damn Good!(Seriously)

What is the use of the quadratic formula anyway?

If you have an aversion to mathematics, this book is for you. It is neither too hard nor too advanced.

This book is an expansion of the author’s articles in the New York Times where he explained mathematical concepts in simple and easy terms. It is divided into six chapters, namely Numbers, Relationships, Shapes, Change, Data, and Frontiers.

“The ripples on a pond, the ridges of sand dunes, the stripes of a zebra — all are manifestations of nature’s most basic mechanism of pattern formation: the emergence of sinusoidal structure from a background of bland uniformity.”

The author takes us on a joyride, telling us how mathematics exists all around us. He gives relatable examples like Michael Jordan’s slam dunks, Sesame Street, and the notorious O.J. Simpson trial.

“ — things that seem hopelessly random and unpredictable when viewed in isolation often turn out to be lawful and predictable when viewed in aggregate.”

Once you go through this book, you’ll wish Steven Strogatz was your Math teacher.

10 Spectacular Books about the World of Math I Didn’t Expect to Be So Damn Good!(Seriously)

How long does it take to solve a theorem? 300 years.

There is something about this book that reminds me of Dan Brown’s mystery novels.

This must be the reason why it became the first mathematics book to become the number one seller in the United Kingdom.

A 17th-century mathematician, Pierre de Fermat, created a theorem while studying an ancient Greek text on number theory. In the margin, he wrote something that will haunt future mathematicians. “I have a truly marvellous demonstration of this proposition which this margin is too narrow to contain.”

Did he have the answer and took it to his grave? Who knows.

“God exists since mathematics is consistent, and the Devil exists since we cannot prove it.”

In 1963, a 10-year-old boy borrowed a book from his library. The book was written on the then-unsolved Fermat’s last theorem.

In that moment inspiration took over and he decided he would solve this theorem. That boy’s name was Andrew Wiles.

“Proof is what lies at the heart of maths, and is what marks it out from other sciences.”

Did he solve the theorem? Or was he just one of many mathematicians who tried but failed?

Pick this book up and find out.

10 Spectacular Books about the World of Math I Didn’t Expect to Be So Damn Good!(Seriously)

The biography of a brilliant mind lost too soon.

Humble and poor, but incredibly gifted in math. His name? Srinivasa Ramanujan. Ramanujan was an Indian boy who passed school but failed college. He wanted to focus on mathematics only and hence, failed all the other subjects.

However, his math quest continued independently.

“His academic failure forced him to develop unconventionally, free of the social straightjacket that might have constrained his progress to well-worn paths.”

His research was compiled in his notebooks. Far too advanced for his time, many struggled to understand his work.

Later on, he started correspondence with the famous mathematician G. H. Hardy, who brought him to Cambridge, England. This book discusses their relationship as well. The two worked together on many mathematical theorems and problems, despite their conflicting personalities.

“But what Ramanujan wanted more, more than anything, was simply the freedom to do as he wished, to be left alone to think, to dream, to create, to lose himself in a world of his own making.”

Ramanujan rose to prominence as one of the leading mathematicians in the 20th century.

Unfortunately, he died at the tender age of 33 years. Most of his work has been proven over the years after his death.

This book is not a story of math but of brilliance and dedication, which is sure to give inspiration to anyone who reads it.

10 Spectacular Books about the World of Math I Didn’t Expect to Be So Damn Good!(Seriously)

Mental illness can befall the brightest of minds.

What do you envision when you hear the word ‘Nobel prize winner’? A posh, well-dressed person who made significant contributions in his field. That’s not the complete story though.

The same is true for John Nash. He might be an intelligent mind who won a Nobel prize but for a significant part of his life, his mind plagued him. He suffered from paranoid schizophrenia.

“Nash’s faith in rationality and the power of pure thought was extreme, even for a very young mathematician and even for the new age of computers, space travel, and nuclear weapons.”

Schizophrenia made him believe that aliens were talking to him or that people were conspiring against him. He spent a significant time in and out of mental institutions and hospitals.

After losing 30 years to his illness, he reemerged. He went on to make significant contributions to the field of mathematics and got his Nobel prize. He also went on to remarry his wife.

“It’s only in the mysterious equation of love that any logic or reasons can be found.”

This is a story of love, healing, and the power of the human mind.

10 Spectacular Books about the World of Math I Didn’t Expect to Be So Damn Good!(Seriously)

We can thank calculus for our phones

Without calculus, we wouldn’t have phones, GPS, or microwaves.

In this book, Strogatz takes us on a journey from the days of Archimedes to artificial intelligence.

He simplifies calculus for us with real-life and easy-to-relate examples. The author calls Calculus, the ‘language of the universe.’

“Infinity lies at the heart of so many of our dreams and fears and unanswerable questions: How big is the universe? How long is forever? How powerful is God?”

He also gives us easy experiments that we can use to understand the calculus hidden in plain sight. For example, he teaches us to calculate the speed of light using cheese and a microwave.

“It isn’t necessary to learn how to do calculus to appreciate it, just as it isn’t necessary to learn how to prepare fine cuisine to enjoy eating it.”

This book is a must-read if you hate calculus classes because it might just soften your view. Give it a try!

10 Spectacular Books about the World of Math I Didn’t Expect to Be So Damn Good!(Seriously)

A treat for a deep-thinking mind.

‘Gödel, Escher, Bach’, otherwise known as GEB, is the work of an American scholar, Douglas Hofstadter, whose field is cognitive science and physics.

This book is more advanced than all others on this list. It is truly for an intellectual mind who is hungry for more. It discusses the interconnectedness of math, music, and language.

“Now what is “music”–a sequence of vibrations in the air, or a succession of emotional responses in the brain?”

It dwells on concepts of philosophy, psychology, the human mind, the concept of self, and consciousness.

Hofstadter tackles the Artificial Intelligence issue far differently than the majority today. According to his understanding, an AI system might never reach the level of thinking, and feeling human.

“Sometimes it seems as though each new step towards AI, rather than producing something which everyone agrees is real intelligence, merely reveals what real intelligence is not.”

If you like overthinking about everything around you, you will love this book.

10 Spectacular Books about the World of Math I Didn’t Expect to Be So Damn Good!(Seriously)

Is math only a young man’s game?

Written in 1942, this essay is in defense of the value of mathematics. Hardy argues that mathematical concepts don’t necessarily have to be applied practically for them to be appreciated.

“A mathematician, like a painter or poet, is a maker of patterns. If his patterns are more permanent than theirs, it is because they are made with ideas.”

This book also has some autobiographical accounts of his life.

Given his declining mathematical capability with age, the author is convinced that mathematics is a young man’s game.

Hardy has an affinity towards higher level mathematics, which he calls ‘pure mathematics’.

He doesn’t enjoy the ‘lower level’ mathematics.

“A man who is always asking ‘Is what I do worthwhile?’ and ‘Am I the right person to do it?’ will always be ineffective himself and a discouragement to others.”

He writes that his number theory might not find practical application anytime soon.

Paradoxically, number theory was used to crack the German enigma in World War 2.

Regardless of your interest in maths, you’ll find this to be a fascinating account of a man who enjoyed his work.


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