Math by the Book

Many mathematicians are familiar with Paul Erdős’s idea of a proof from The Book. The Book was God’s collection of the most beautiful, elegant, and deep proofs. (Never mind the fact that Erdős was an atheist.) In 1998, Martin Aigner and Günter Ziegler published Proofs from THE BOOK, a collection of these divine proofs, or at least an “earthly shados” of them. At Quanta, Erica Klarreich recently interviewed Ziegler about the book, which was awarded the 2018 Steele Prize for Mathematical Exposition by the AMS. She also posted about two of her favorite proofs from the book on Quanta’s Abstractions blog.

A collection of math books sitting on a shelf

Credit: the kirbster, via Flickr.

People tend to learn a lot of math from books. But in addition to The Book and the many other math textbooks we use, math also shows up in fiction. College of Charleston mathematician Alex Kasman maintains a website about fiction that incorporates mathematics. There are currently 1259 works on the list, so if you’re looking for a book recommendation, you have a lot to choose from. I recently wrote an entry for the site about one of the less successful (at least in my opinion) such books, Lost Empire by Clive Cussler and Grant Blackwood.

Fiction with mathematical themes and other non-textbooks can help people see math and mathematicians in a different light. KQED’s MindShift podcast recently posted about math teacher Joel Bezaire, who reads The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time with his seventh grade math classes, and Sam Shah, who has incorporated a math book club into his calculus classes. Math teacher and math education professor John Golden has also used a book club in his university math classes.

If you’d like to join a math book club yourself, the blogger behind Life though a Mathematician’s Eyes started a math book club group on Goodreads.

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