What books should I buy my math professors?
April 15, 2010 8:54 AM   Subscribe

I recently applied to grad schools, and I got recommendations from three of my math professors. I'd like to get them all books as a "thank you" but I'm stumped on which specific titles to get two of them. The books don't have to be overtly math-related (thought it wouldn't hurt), but I think they probably shouldn't be completely orthogonal. If it helps, the book that I did buy is Michael Ruhlman's latest food book Ratio.

Some further details:

I bought Ratio for Professor 1, and she liked it a lot.
Professor 2 is Professor 1's husband, and loves financial math.
Professor 3 loves geometry above all else.

And again I'd like to stress that the books suggested don't have to directly align with these interests. If you've got a book in mind that most people with a disposition towards math would enjoy, that would qualify too.

posted by cybertaur1 to Education (14 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Ok, well I'm terrible at math so it might seem elementary to them, or whatever, but Everything and More: A Compact History of Infinity is pretty cool - and it's by David Foster Wallace, which makes it infinitely more cool.

Is there a cool art book that features very mathematically grounded art? Like fractal art or something like that? Or maybe something like Music and Mathematics?
posted by Lutoslawski at 9:13 AM on April 15, 2010

Recommend books on Paper Engineering, especially for prof #3.

Maybe something about serious games for prof #2?
posted by cross_impact at 9:21 AM on April 15, 2010

This might work for any of them.
posted by stratastar at 9:23 AM on April 15, 2010

I really enjoyed Paul J. Nahin's An Imaginary Tale: The Story of √-1. The math is a bit elementary for a math professor, but it also gives a fantastic history of the use and development of the complex number field. Alternatively, if you can find it, The World of Mathematics is absolutely one of the best sets of books a mathematician can own. I can't recommend them highly enough.
posted by dilettanti at 9:33 AM on April 15, 2010

If any of them are music buffs, they might enjoy Temperament by Stuart Isacoff. It's got a good mix of history, philosophy, mathematics, and music.
posted by Johnny Assay at 9:36 AM on April 15, 2010

Posted too quickly - it looks like The World of Mathematics has been republished in paperback and is readily available. Here's the Amazon link.
posted by dilettanti at 9:38 AM on April 15, 2010

How about this coffee table book of mathematicians? It was discussed on Metafilter recently.
posted by alligatorman at 9:49 AM on April 15, 2010

I truly loved The Solitude of Prime Numbers by Paolo Giordano. Not a math book, but a beautiful novel, 'a brutally honest yet generous portrayal of two struggling souls'. In the book, they are compared to prime numbers. The author is in fact a physicist.

I have to add that I don't know if it is common to give novels in situations like this...
posted by eau79 at 10:16 AM on April 15, 2010

How about Proofs from the Book?
posted by amf at 10:26 AM on April 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

I would stay away from books as a present. Unless you nail it, you've given someone an obligation to read a book. And a math book may be too much like work. Presumably if they were interested, they'd have read it already.

How about a nice, really nice, bottle of wine?

Or pie?
posted by musofire at 11:01 AM on April 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

A gift card to Barnes and Noble or any popular local bookstore would enable them to choose whatever they want. Gratitude is very good quality- bless you in that you want to say thank you to them.
posted by srbrunson at 11:18 AM on April 15, 2010

Speaking as a professor, the most extravagant things I've ever received for writing reference letters for students were cards. Most gave me nothing, which is fine as this is part of our job.

Getting them all gifts is completely unnecessary. In fact I'd feel a bit uncomfortable if I did get a book from a student for something like this. I
posted by ethnomethodologist at 9:03 PM on April 15, 2010

It's a nice thought, but giving gifts to professors for writing recommendations is usually frowned upon and considered slightly inappropriate. While you feel very appreciative of their effort and want to express it, it's really just part of their job, and any gift-giving that might occur as a result of recommendations hints a little at bribery, even though that's not your intent.
posted by Dilemma at 9:41 PM on April 15, 2010

Another professor here... I'll second the point that you really don't need to get anything. If you want to get something, I've appreciated a nice note as much as anything else -- it sounds cheesy, but just knowing that your student appreciates your effort is all the thanks I've ever needed.

That said, if you feel absolutely constrained to give them a book, please for the love of all you hold dear, do not give them a book in their field. There is no good outcome here. Either: (a) they've already read it (likely if it is an actually useful book); or (b) it is overly simplistic and superficial from their point of view (likely if it is any kind of pop-science book on math). I can think of no books in my field that I would appreciate receiving from a student -- either I have read it, or I have no interest in reading it. If you want to get them a book, get them something that they wouldn't have been likely to pick out themselves, one having nothing to do with math.

But, seriously, you don't need to get them anything.
posted by forza at 4:44 AM on April 16, 2010

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