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Books about mathematics for the interested layman?
February 25, 2013 11:30 AM   Subscribe

So, physicists like Brian Greene, Lisa Randall, Kip Thorne, and others have written books aimed at an interested lay audience. What are similar books written by mathematicians? I'm aware of Godel, Escher & Bach. And that's about it.
posted by dfriedman to Science & Nature (23 answers total) 40 users marked this as a favorite
An Imaginary Tale: The Story of √-1. Follow the tags from there.
posted by Nomyte at 11:33 AM on February 25, 2013

No one author, but I do love The World of Mathematics , a 4 volume set covering several thousand years, in papers by original authors with commentary. There is a 1988 version by Microsoft Press that is superior if you can find it, and it is highly regarded if you want to get both context and content without spending huge amounts of time DOING math. I buy sets to give away. That good, really.
posted by FauxScot at 11:35 AM on February 25, 2013

A similar recent question
posted by knile at 11:40 AM on February 25, 2013

The Man of Numbers: Fibonacci's Arithmetic Revolution is interesting. Isaac Asimov wrote a number of great books on math for laypeople but sadly they're all out of print now - check your local library.
posted by GuyZero at 12:02 PM on February 25, 2013

"Symbolic Logic" and "The Game of Logic" by Lewis Carroll. (Yes, the same one who write "Alice in Wonderland".)
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 12:11 PM on February 25, 2013

The Music of the Primes, by Marcus du Sautoy.
posted by Johnny Assay at 12:45 PM on February 25, 2013

"Everything and More" by David Foster Wallace.
posted by eugenen at 12:46 PM on February 25, 2013

G. H. Hardy's A Mathematician's Apology is a classic. It doesn't have much math, except for a very succinct proof that the square root of two is not rational, but it will give you an idea of how mathematicians think.
posted by ubiquity at 12:48 PM on February 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

The Golden Ratio: The Story of PHI, the World's Most Astonishing Number

It is not an exaggeration to say this book changed my life.
posted by Afroblanco at 12:52 PM on February 25, 2013

The Pleasures of Counting by T W Körner.
posted by epo at 1:03 PM on February 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

I very much enjoyed The Broken Dice by Ivar Ekeland.
posted by gimonca at 1:07 PM on February 25, 2013

The book Mathematics: A Very Short Introduction, by Fields medallist Tim Gowers, is (as advertised) a short book that explains what mathematics is actually about.

Many of the other books listed here are interesting, but deal more with mathematical curiosities, e.g. The Golden Ratio or An Imaginary Tale. Not that this makes them bad books! But they don't give you much of an idea of what mathematicians do or think about.

I have given this book to my family members, friends, and to my wife, in an attempt to explain what it is that I do with my time.
posted by number9dream at 1:08 PM on February 25, 2013

Ian Stewart has a number of nice pop-math books.

Do you count John Allan Paulos's books? Innumeracy, A Mathematician Reads the newspaper; A mathematician plays the stock market
posted by leahwrenn at 1:31 PM on February 25, 2013 [2 favorites]

Imagining Numbers and Fermat's Enigma are two of my faves
posted by OHenryPacey at 2:13 PM on February 25, 2013

Journey Through Genius is a really cool one that explains a lot of famous theorems in a way that a layperson can follow and gives the history surrounding them.
posted by Gymnopedist at 3:59 PM on February 25, 2013

Not by a mathematician, but Charles Seife's "Zero" is pretty great.
posted by Camofrog at 6:50 PM on February 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

Surprised no one's mentioned The Man Who Loved Only Numbers: The Story of Paul Erdös and the Search for Mathematical Truth by Paul Hoffman -- "both a vivid portrait of an eccentric genius and a layman's guide to some of this century's most startling mathematical discoveries." There's neat detail in this NYT review, including the classic story about Erdos' love for amphetamines.

And here are a few more previouslies:

Inspiring books about mathematics and statistics?...The books should be readable by a non-gifted, non-math major.

Gauss, Escher, Bach. Give me math that doesn't read like math!

Can anyone recommend some advanced (pure) math books to learn new subjects? Also nonfiction books about math that are good reads?

I'm sure there are more further back in the archives as well.
posted by mediareport at 9:44 PM on February 25, 2013

Rudy Rucker - Infinity and the Mind
posted by crocomancer at 1:08 AM on February 26, 2013

Alex Bellos, Here's Looking at Euclid (called Alex's Adventures in Numberland in the UK) is awesome. Bellos also writes about math topics for the Guardian.
posted by Wylla at 3:51 AM on February 26, 2013

This book Thinking in Numbers looks pretty good (link to New Scientist review).
posted by leibniz at 6:33 AM on February 26, 2013

Abbot's "Flatland" is another example.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 7:29 AM on February 26, 2013

Thanks for all the suggestions.
posted by dfriedman at 7:49 AM on February 26, 2013

Late to the party, but let me second Rudy Rucker's Infinity and the Mind, which will blow your mind.
posted by wittgenstein at 12:38 PM on February 26, 2013

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