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January 29, 2013 11:26 AM   Subscribe

Can you recommend short, easy-to-understand math writing I can read before bed?

I would love to find short, clear, engaging explanations of mathematical concepts that I can read before bed.

1-4 pages would be great. I would especially love books filled with these, but individual articles would be great too.

Ideally, each piece would
- explain the idea clearly and simply enough for a teenager to understand
- describe how the mathematician developed it
- talk about how it's involved in everyday life

Some of the segments of A Brief History of Mathematics come close to this. (However, I'm looking for the printed word, here, not podcasts or videos.)

Puzzlers could be okay, but I'm really looking for descriptions and explanations, not mathematical puzzles that will keep me up all night.

I am completely open to reading children's books.

posted by kristi to Media & Arts (12 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
Read The Number Devil, one chapter each night.
posted by alms at 11:32 AM on January 29, 2013 [4 favorites]

Zero: The Biography of a Dangerous Idea gets a little complex in the last few chapters but I was assigned to read it as a 14-year-old, found it fairly engaging, learned a lot of things I didn't know, and understood all but the last 1/4 or so.
posted by capricorn at 11:39 AM on January 29, 2013

Martin Gardner's Mathematical Games columns from Scientific American might be up your alley, and have been collected & published in several volumes. They do include some puzzles, but usually as an introduction to or illustration of the general subject of the column.
posted by Johnny Assay at 11:43 AM on January 29, 2013 [3 favorites]

It's book-length, but I found Simon Singh's Fermat's Enigma to be thoroughly engaging and written exactly for mathematical laymen (like me).
posted by jquinby at 12:14 PM on January 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

The Penrose the Mathematical Cat books might do the trick. Short articles on advanced concepts like fractals, but aimed at middle schoolers or so.
posted by tracer at 12:38 PM on January 29, 2013

Mathematics:from the birth of numbers, a huge tome, but in easy-to-read chunks on a huge variety of topics...Bonus: very cute illustrations by the author's children

also, you might check out the math book by Cliff Pickover...haven't read it myself but his title 'mazes for the mind' was amazing and I check out his blog pretty often...
posted by sexyrobot at 12:53 PM on January 29, 2013

John Allen Paulos' Beyond Numeracy is a bunch of short essays on various mathmatical topics, and is very accessible.
posted by neutralmojo at 1:05 PM on January 29, 2013

Steven Strogatz - The Joy of X
posted by knile at 1:06 PM on January 29, 2013

Seconding Strogatz's book, which is exactly what you want.
posted by escabeche at 3:48 PM on January 29, 2013

Here are some classic of popular mathematics writing that haven't been mentioned so far:

Professor Stewarts Cabinet of Mathematical Curiosities by Ian Stewart

Mathematicians Delight by WW Sawyer

Journey Through Genius: The Great Theorems Of Mathematics by William Dunham

The Language of Mathematics by Keith Devlin

And a new book by Lockhart that looks very nice:

Measurement by Paul Lockhart
posted by jarekr at 2:40 AM on January 30, 2013

If you're okay with something that is computer science, so some math concepts, but a lot of them looked through the view of CS, New Turning Omnibus is pretty interesting. Review of it from Coding Horror. A collection of 66 topics fundamental to computing.
posted by skynxnex at 10:51 AM on January 30, 2013

These are all terrific - thank you!
posted by kristi at 11:52 AM on February 2, 2013

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