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Entertaining and fun books about mathematics for liberal arts student

  1. Dec 16, 2016 #1
    I’m looking for books of a general interest in maths, like a maths novel, a fun book about maths, a humorous introduction to higher concepts, something outside of tests, something they can read on their free time and appreciate the beauty of mathematics.

    Let me add more details. I’m working as a TA for the course ‘’Maths and Physics’’ at a university college. The students have chosen the direction of environmental sciences. They basically have only two courses of maths in the entire bachelor program and no physics. They come from different backgrounds, but the majority of them has done some high school mathematics (not deeply) and a very elementary course in statistics. During the one semester course we will cover stuff from precalculus (functions, trigonometry, logarithms, etc.), stuff from introductory calculus (limits, derivatives, integrals), and then vectors and finally physics. Also the lecturer has been introducing them to number theory ideas (pigeonhole principle, golden ratio, induction).

    My job is primarily to solve the exercises the lecturer gives them once a week and answer as many of their questions as time permits. I’m not satisfied with only that so I want to make them more interested in maths and eventually physics. Most of them won’t use maths again in another course in their program. So, now you have the whole picture, how can I peak their interest?

    For example, one of my students is interested in the philosophy of maths. I have already given him an introductory article about the incompleteness theorem and another one about the ‘’Unreasonable effectiveness of mathematics’’ by Wigner. Do you have any further suggestions?

    Concerning all the students it doesn’t have to be only books, any resource in general would be fine. But, maybe they can appreciate books more easily? I was thinking about a book introducing them to the why’s of mathematics or maybe some higher ideas (in an introductory level), or why not maths literature, perhaps a maths novel, a comic about mathematics? What are your ideas?
  2. jcsd
  3. Dec 16, 2016 #2
    I think you will be very happy with my recommendation. I'm so excited you asked actually. lol

    Logicomix: An epic search for truth

    It's a graphic novel about Betrand Russell's struggle with the foundations of mathematics. Math, philosophy, mental disorders, all in graphic format. It's an AWESOME read. It's the first graphic novel I ever read actually. It is REALLY fun.

    Some of the ones that pop up as recommended when you look at this one look good too, but I haven't seen them yet. Next I'm going to check out his other work

    You're welcome!

    -Dave K

    edit: There's one about Turing too!
    Last edited by a moderator: May 8, 2017
  4. Dec 16, 2016 #3
    I have read both books. Tbh i didn't really like Logicomix. One the other hand Uncle Petros is one of my all time favourite books (actually this book might have played a role on why i chose to study physics instead of mathematics). I have read it 5 times and it always brings tears to my eyes every time, but it's not what i'm looking for. Books like Uncle Petros, Fermat's last theorem by Singh etc. might give them the wrong idea about what mathematicians do and how they are like.What i'm looking for is novel which contains mathematics, or a book that presents a topic in an amusing elementary way, something funny, something light. What i have in mind is for example ''Things to make and do in the fourth dimension'' or ''Surely you are joking Mr. Feynman'' which is closer to physics. I don't want to give them something heavier, since most of them don't care anyway much about mathematics
  5. Dec 16, 2016 #4

    And here I thought it was this cool thing that only I knew about. Sorry. :)

    Signh also has that book based on math found in the Simpsons, but I'm not sure that people younger than us watch the Simpsons anymore. There's Flatland, but that possibly reads as dated now. Still, if you start there on amazon, I see some stuff popping up that looks interesting like "Math and Magic in Wonderland" which seems to get astounding reviews, but at this point it's Amazon's algorithm doing the work and not me, so I'm curious to see what others recommend.

    -Dave K
  6. Dec 16, 2016 #5


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    I really enjoyed "Sync" by Steve Strogatz. If I recall correctly it was mostly stories and some sketches, with very few (if any) equations. But well written and entertaining. Almost made me wish I had studied nonlinear dynamics instead of electrical engineering.

    One book that has more equations is "a history of Pi" by Beckmann. I received it as a gift from an uncle when I was in high school (30 years ago!) and it helped feed my interest in math and science. There are a fair number of equations, but I recall skipping stuff I didn't understand and still thoroughly enjoying the book.

    I found the first half of "an imaginary tale" by Nahin to be a wonderful read, although I'm not sure if your students would be interested. The actual history of complex numbers is fascinating and is mostly calculus-free. The second part of the book tries to get through basic contour integration, Cauchy's theorem and of course the residue theorem, which I found to be just okay even though I love complex analysis.

  7. Dec 27, 2016 #6
    Introduction to mathematical philosophy - BERTRAND RUSSEL. Its a cheap good book (no one probably wANTS to read it nowadays, defines number and other things at an accessible primitive level.) from the KING himself :bow:

    here it is for free:

    I also read Stephen Pollards A Mathematical Prelude to the Philosophy
    of Mathematics it is like the above, but on steroids.(springer books) its a real mental gymnastics program for me :D

    also, cryptonomicon. Though reading it give me a headache and I didnt read it completely, story is good.
    Your mileage may vary.
    Last edited: Dec 27, 2016
  8. Dec 27, 2016 #7

    Andy Resnick

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    This is the essential problem many of us face in the classroom- how to interest students who, for a variety of reasons, have no interest (and perhaps antipathy) in the material. I don't think any of the suggested books will be of interest to your students- they are not interested in math, so books going on about how cool math is are unlikely to be persuasive.

    On the other hand, *you* know your students- their interests and (potential) career goals. Thus, you have the ability to 'meet them halfway', so to speak. Maybe start by discussing their attitudes toward math, find out when they started to lose interest, etc. etc.
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