Learning math
May 17, 2005 4:04 PM   Subscribe

I want to learn intermediate/advanced algebra and on to trig/calculus. Are there any good books / software / resources / websites that will help me with this, aside from the regular run of dry textbooks?

It seems the defacto method for learning anything beyond basic algebra is crusty school/college textbooks. Are there more inspired advanced algebra books that can reel me in? Software? Anything? Do mathematicians have a sense of humor? Surely there has to be a book that serves up heaps of word problems and insightful discussion. I have not found this, though, at my local Borders or Barnes & Noble beyond basic algebra. The titles available are just filled with rote exercises, which admittedly is good & necessary but I want something fuller, more refreshing, and more interesting.

This stuff is really beneficial to me in my line of work... I'm just having trouble finding the discipline to work at it because the books I'm using are so doggone dry and uninspiring.

Is this just how it is, or am I overlooking some interesting books written by some brilliant mathematicians somewhere?

Yes, much of this would be garnered by attending a course, but this isn't possible right now and I have to work on this in my spare time.

Any ideas here?
posted by rolypolyman to Education (9 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Not a perfect solution, but the Schaum outlines (such as this) are cheap, clear, simple, and thorough.
posted by Kwantsar at 4:10 PM on May 17, 2005

correct link?
posted by andrew cooke at 5:03 PM on May 17, 2005

(and one of the reviews says trignometry is not well covered, unfortunately, although it looks like a good book)
posted by andrew cooke at 5:06 PM on May 17, 2005

Your question is kinda like the question that appeared earlier about how to learn German in 45 minutes a day and make it interesting.

I've tried both periodically. The hard thing is sticking to it. Maths can be kinda dull. I don't know that there is a particular book that willl make you think that it is interesting. A lot of the time the interest is brought to the subject by whoever is studying it. The most interesting I ever found maths was when I was doing basic integration/differentiation, then doing Linear Algebra and then doing numerical analysis. But a lot of people would describe all those subjects as being dull as dishwater.

Maths is about the way the world is, and is not usually a 'fun' activity, nor is learning a language for most people. But you can decide it is rewarding and very much worthwhile and then it can bcome satisfying.
posted by sien at 11:28 PM on May 17, 2005

You might want to check out "Prof. E. McSquared's Calculus Primer: Expanded Intergalactic Version".

It's a comic format introduction to a tough topic. 25 years ago it helped me go from a D at midterm to a B.
posted by Marky at 1:57 AM on May 18, 2005

When you get to calculus, you might check out "How to Ace Calculus : The Streetwise Guide". It's the least dry calculus book evar. Here are some excerpts, e.g. "Doing that Calc Thing to Exponents and Logs". Includes "Famous mathematician stories", which are sometimes true.
posted by gleuschk at 6:45 AM on May 18, 2005

Calculus Made Easy is pretty decent. As is A Tour of the Calculus, although A Tour won't actually teach you the arithmetic of any of it.

For linalg, I suggest the Schaum outline (which was actually written by my linalg prof from last semester).

However, the best way to learn this stuff is to pick yourself a really involved and compex project, and learn all the math necessary to do it. Buy a couple of used textbooks in the subject, and a good book on what you're trying to do, and refer back and forth between the two of them.

I taught myself a bunch of linear algebra, differential equations, multivariate calculus, and some seriously frightening linear programming just because I decided that I was going to write a realtime/gaming physics engine.
posted by Netzapper at 8:07 AM on May 18, 2005

I signed up for calculus classes at my local community college 20+ years after taking trig in high school. I turned out that I had to take a placement exam to prove I knew enough trig to make it through the calculus class. Since I was signing up at the last possible moment, I ended up with 1 night to study and remind myself of all the forgotten trigonometry I hadn't used in over 2 decades. Trigonometry the Easy Way by Douglas Downing is the book that got me through it. It teaches trig in the guise of a fantasy novel, where the characters have to discover/invent the concepts and techniques of trigonometry in order to solve various "real world" problems. It sounds kind of silly, but it absolutely works. I probably understood trig better after reading that book than I did back when I first took the classes.
posted by tdismukes at 12:46 PM on May 18, 2005

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