Is that a textbook in your pocket or are you just happy to see me?
February 28, 2009 10:18 AM   Subscribe

What small, easy-to-carry-around books provide a satisfying introduction to mathematic and scientific fields, topics and/or concepts?

I'm a voracious reader who would rather spend my subway rides with my nose in a book instead of an ipod in my ear. Unfortunately, a lot of the types of things I've been reading lately are not easy to carry around with me for whenever I've got ten minutes to spare. Think textbooks - neuroeconomics, artificial intelligence, statistics, and oh, I picked up Roger Penrose's Road to Reality recently, it's great but too heavy to leave my room. Anyway, as much as I've been enjoying my textbooks, it's hard to make much headway, whereas I speed through anything I can carry around with me.

I would really love to be able to read textbook-like books (or at least pop sci books that can function as serious introductions to a topic or field) while sitting on the subway or while waiting somewhere for a friend. Something roughly novel-sized I could stuff into my handbag or keep in my backpack without killing my back. Any recommendations?

(I'm especially interested in learning more about statistics, probability theory, artificial intelligence, computational models, and various maths, but my interests are pretty vast so if you know a good book on a different topic feel free to recommend.)
posted by shaun uh to Science & Nature (15 answers total) 18 users marked this as a favorite

What is Mathematics
posted by Proginoskes at 10:27 AM on February 28, 2009

Game Theory and Strategy by Phillip Straffin is a good introductory textbook on game theory. It's a softcover about 250 pages long, and it's divided up into five to ten page sections. It covers the basics of many concepts in game theory, and is accessible to anyone with a basic understanding of probability theory, and a good understanding of high school algebra.
posted by CrunchyFrog at 10:35 AM on February 28, 2009

Best answer: The Very Short Introduction series is great, and designed to be extremely portable.
posted by charmcityblues at 10:38 AM on February 28, 2009 [1 favorite]

Pierce's Introduction to Information Theory.

This is the foundation for nearly everything - including most of the subjects you mention at the end of your post. This book is readable but doesn't shy away from taking you very deep into the subject.
posted by vacapinta at 10:40 AM on February 28, 2009 [1 favorite]

You could carry one of the 4 amazing volumes of The World of Mathematics, which consists in shorts chapters covering various topics in mathematics. It reads well, although at times it got me lost!
posted by ddaavviidd at 12:05 PM on February 28, 2009

Yeah, Fields Medalist and devoted expositor Tim Gowers wrote Mathematics: A Very Short Introduction and I highly recommend it.
posted by escabeche at 12:07 PM on February 28, 2009

THE CANON: A Whirligig Tour of the Beautiful Basics of Science By Natalie Angier is a great pop-science introduction to all the major science fields.
posted by rabbitsnake at 12:55 PM on February 28, 2009 [1 favorite]

The Kindle2 just came out, it's very small and light and includes free cellular access to wikipedia, plus whatever else you want to load it up with. If you can afford it, and haven't seen an e-ink display before, have a look at one - they're not a screen like a laptop or cellphone, they do seem to be the future of paper.
posted by -harlequin- at 1:19 PM on February 28, 2009 [1 favorite]

The Mathematical Tourist by Ivars Peterson.
posted by 8dot3 at 1:20 PM on February 28, 2009

For math and science text books you can carry: check out dover. They do tend to be dated, but they are cheap and portable.
posted by classa at 1:32 PM on February 28, 2009

Seriously, listen to charmcityblues. Your question just cries out for the Oxford Very Short Introduction to [Enormous Awesome Concept] series. They are excellent.
posted by dizziest at 2:54 PM on February 28, 2009

I would recommend W W Sawyer, Prelude to Mathematics. (which was indeed published by Dover.)
posted by wittgenstein at 7:28 PM on February 28, 2009

Five Golden Rules - An easy introduction to some of the staple modern applied math concepts.

I Am a Strange Loop
- Doug H. reweaves his theories on math, computer science, and cognition in a compact, straightforward distillation of the ideas first presented in GEB.

The Trouble With Physics
- Smolin gives a concise overview of modern physics, then lays into string theory and offers some alternatives.
posted by erikgrande at 1:57 AM on March 1, 2009

The Heart of Mathematics by Edward Burger and Michael Starbird. This is a very, very excellent textbook, designed to give non-math-major college students an overview of all the fun stuff that makes mathematicians love their jobs. Unfortunately, it does not fit your requirement for being novel-size (it is typical textbook size), though I think it would be worth the extra weight. (Some sections of it require 3-D glasses, which come with the book; I leave it up to you to decide whether this is a good thing or not).

If you are hung up on the size issue, Coincidences, Chaos, and All That Math Jazz, by the same authors, does. It has a lot of the same basic material, highly condensed and in a non-textbook format (and without the 3-D illustrations, as I recall). It also costs about a 10th as much, which may be a consideration.
posted by Commander Rachek at 12:04 PM on March 1, 2009

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