Ten great books to give an interested mathematician

Oh no! Your favourite mathematician has a birthday/Christmas/other present-giving occasion coming up and you don’t know what book to get them! They’ve already got Cracking Mathematics and The Maths Behind, obviously… so what can you give them this year?

Fear not, dear reader. I am at hand to list some of my favourite maths books (ordered alphabetically by author).

  • How Many Socks Make a Pair? by Rob Eastaway: Rob is an absolute hero of popular maths writing, and it’s always a delight to see him take an everyday phenomenon and turn it into a puzzle.

  • The Indisputable Existence Of Santa Claus by Hannah Fry and Thomas Oléron Evans: Despite having two small children, I am an avowed Grinch when it comes to Christmas. This book made the festive season almost tolerable. (Full review, scroll down.)

  • The Man Who Loved Only Numbers by Paul Hoffman: I’m pretty sure this is the first book I ever had to pay a library fine for. A splendid biography of Erdos.

  • $e$: The Story of a Number by Eli Maor: It’s quite tricky, as a maths writer, to balance accessiblity with detail. Maor does that brilliantly, weaving out the history of $e$ with a beautiful light touch.

  • The Theory That Would Not Die by Sharon Bertsch McGrayne: I’m not much of a statistician, but if I was, I’d be a Bayesian. That’s due in large part to McGrayne’s brilliant exposition of Bayes’s Theorem and its applications. (Full review.)

  • Closing the Gap by Vicky Neale: Neither am I much of a number theorist, but Neale’s book made me feel like I could be, if I wanted to. A splendid guide to recent advances in the twin prime conjecture. (Full review at The Aperiodical.)

  • Things to Make and Do in the Fourth Dimension by Matt Parker: A giant in the maths outreach world, Parker’s debut book1 is characteristically comical and thought-provoking. This would be my “if in doubt, get this” choice. (Full review.)

  • Genius at Play by Siobhan Roberts: John Conway is one of the most interesting mathematicians of the second half of the 20th century. This biography explains why. (Full review.)

  • Geometry Snacks by Ed Southall and Vincent Pantaloni: Whee! Puzzles! (Full review at The Aperiodical.)

  • Seventeen Equations That Changed The World by Ian Stewart: You can rely on Ian Stewart to be fascinating – to take a mathematical object, start with its surface and dig deep until everyone is learning something new. Seventeen Equations does exactly that, with… er… seventeen equations. (Full review.)

And if I’m your favourite mathematician… I don’t know what to tell you. I’ve read all of these. I have a wishlist here. While I get a small cut if you click one of the links and buy from Amazon, I’d be thrilled if you supported your local bookstore instead.


Colin is a Weymouth maths tutor, author of several Maths For Dummies books and A-level maths guides. He started Flying Colours Maths in 2008. He lives with an espresso pot and nothing to prove.

  1. I gather a new book is in the works []


2 comments on “Ten great books to give an interested mathematician

  • Barney Maunder-Taylor

    Where’s “Cracking Mathematics” by C. Beveridge? – certainly the best History of Maths book out there.

    I’ve read 6 from that list and enjoyed all, so will take your recommendation and purchase John Conway next. Thanks for the suggestions!

    • Colin

      Thanks! I did mention it in the first paragraph…

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