So many books, such little time! I had this dangerous idea of compiling all the best books found in the mathematical universe. The history of mathematics and the evolution of this global subject spans language barriers, across time, and throughout the world!
Before you discount math as a dry subject devoid of anything interesting, remember that there are people and stories behind each and every mathematical discovery.
Remember that the history of mathematics includes everything you can think of, starting at the beginning with the origins of mathematics and the development of the number zero all the way to the more modern origins of STEM and computers!
The applications of math and logic can also be applied to so many different subjects (science, engineering, technology, chemistry, physics, art, etc.) that mathematical history can also be found in within the stories of these subjects as well.
The history of mathematics is more than just the math itself as it includes a history of people, culture and motivation as to why we as humans needed math in the first place!
The below list of math history books will take us on adventures from ancient civilizations all the way to more modern day stories and movies such as Hidden Figures.
The top math books are broken up by three main categories:
1) Top math history books – Learn in timeline order mathematic concepts and philosophies how and where they came from
2) Biographies – Learn in detail about the people behind the subject of mathematics
2) Top History math books for children- Entertaining for all, but mostly written for children, this collection of books will introduce mathematics as light, interesting, and fun!
Mathematical History Books
The first section is for anyone who wants to dive deep into the history of mathematics on an academic level. Great for the math nerds who want to know the story and history of mathematics, this section is great for reference as a teacher, professor , or just great for anyone who wants to learn more about mathematics and the people behind it.
1) A History of Mathematics by Carl Boyer and Uta C. Merzbach. Explore the history of mathematics through ancient civilizations around the world and connect them to the modern theorems we are all more familiar with. This book will show you the origins of the classroom mathematics we all do and forget why we do in the first place! Though, fair warning, this is a dense book and can read more like textbook, but great information and great source for reference or if you’re looking to read something a bit intense!
2) Unknown Quantity: A Real and Imaginary History of Algebra by John Derbyshire. Discover the stories and histories behind the subjected of algebra, spanning place and time! See the origins and development of mathematical thought from the past all the way to modern times. In this math book, you will meet many mathematicians, learn about their contributions to the subject, as well as, their stories. If you ever wanted to answer questions such as, why are we learning this in the first place? and where did the quadratic equations come from, this is the math book for you!
3) Men of Mathematics by Eric Temple Bell. This is a mathematic classic (yet maybe dated) history of mathematics book. I only say it may be dated because it was written in 1937. Although it is from the 30’s, we must all admit that the ancient history of math to more modern day nineteenth century calculus with Isaac Newton has not changed and that is why it is still on this list. Just be ready to not hear much in terms of the development of technology, but be ready to learn about achievement in mathematics from several famous mathematicians throughout the ages.
Mathematics is an invented subject. Invented by people throughout time all over the world. Learn in detail about who these people were, their struggles, their discoveries, and of course about their contributions to mathematics.
1) Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race by Margot Lee Shetterly. The movie we all know and love was a book first! Always fun to read the book if you haven’t already to see any differences. And for those of you who don’t know what the book is about, it is based on the true story and follows a group of black women working at NASA as mathematicians, known as “human computers.” Although their contributions to NASA were essential at the time, they faced discrimination in the work place in the early 1960s.
2) The Man from the Future: The Visionary Life of John von Neumann by Ananyo Bhattacharya. This is a biography about John von Neumann, a child prodigy of mathematics, born in Budapest, Hungary, who would grow up to create the first ever digital computer and theorized the future existence of nanotechnology. Known to be smarter than Albert Einstein, he also contributed to logic/sets, quantum mechanics, games theory, nuclear strategy, artificial intelligence, and more! This book takes us on a tour of Von Neumann’s life and ideas and is an interesting read for anyone looking to learn more about this genius scientist from the early 1900’s.
3) Alan Turing: The Enigma by Andrew Hodges. Another book that eventually became the movie you may know as, “The Imitation Game.” This book is the story of Alan Turing, a British mathematician that helped saved the Allies from Nazis in WWII with his universal machine, a foundation of the modern computer as we know it! Turing creates his machine and uses to crack enigma, the German code, to unlock their secrets and eventually win WWII. Interesting to find the differences between the book and the movie to see real and imaginary history, as the book has much more mathematically intense and technical material when compared to the story of the movie. Good read for those who want to learn more about Turing and the math behind his machine!
4) Logicomix: An Epic Search for Truth by Apostolos Doxiadis and Christos H. Papadimitriou, illustrated by Alecos Papadatos and Annie Di Donna. This is a graphic novel and biography about the philosopher Bertrand Russell as he searches for the logical foundations of mathematics and connects with other mathematicians. This book takes us on a journey back in time to Europe during WWI and shows Russell’s life including both his mental and professional struggles. With beautiful illustrations, this is an interesting read for anyone looking to learn more about Bertrand Russell.
Mathematics History for Kids
The list of top math books for kids is great for classrooms, libraries and who are we kidding, adults will also enjoy these books too! This a great way to learn more about math in a kid friendly and easy to understand way. Many of these books provide great illustrations that are perfect for visualizing stories as well as math.
1) A Quick History of Math: From Counting Caveman to Computers (Quick Histories) by Clive Gifford, illustrated by Michael Young. This book is for children aged 8-12 and is choc full of illustrations, that beautifully represent math visually for better understanding of the subject. Perfect at home or in the classroom as it makes the history of math fun for kids in grades 3-7. Be prepared to have fun reading and dive into the ancient history of mathematics including the invention of zero and the pythagorean theorem, while picking up fun math tips and tricks along the way!
2) The Girl With a Mind for Math: The Story of Raye Monatague by Julia Finley Mosca, illustrated by Daniel Rieley. A story about a little girl who defies all odds to reach her dreams of becoming an engineer! Her aptitude for math and STEM is amazing, but her determination, fearlessness and humor is at the heart of this story of mathematics! This is an amazing and inspiring book with technical and biographical back matter in the back. Did I mention this book is based on the real life story of Raye Montague?! Montague was the first female program manager of ships in the United States Navy. Great for classroom or library book to have for discussion.
3) Whats the Point of Math? by DK. Written for children in grades 4 through 7, I honestly think this book could stretch even beyond that as it can appeal to younger kids and even adults. All ages should be able to enjoy a book that makes math simple and easy to understand while using illustrations. Learn how the origins of mathematical concepts such as sequences, pattern recognition, and trigonometry and see how these topics impact our lives in modern times. While reading this book, enjoy mathematical brain teasers, puzzles, games, math magic tricks, and fun facts along the way! Increase mathematical thought for your kids, for your students, or maybe just yourself!
Have you read any of the above books? What did you think? Is there a book on mathematics you think is missing from the list? Let me know in the comments below!
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