The 10 Best History of Mathematics Books
This wiki has been updated 17 times since it was first published in February of 2018. Many believe that a primary reason for the widespread dread students feel regarding mathematics is due to how disconnected it feels from real life. But by describing in great and engaging detail the lifetimes of human toil that it took to discover much of what we know today, these fascinating books can serve to remind us of the history, humanity, and brilliance of the subject. When users buy our independently chosen editorial picks, we may earn commissions to help fund the Wiki.
March 25, 2020:
Math can be an intimidating subject, but that shouldn't stop the layperson from learning more about its history and the people who have worked to build our knowledge of the subject over the last few thousand years. Thankfully, many mathematicians not only realize this desire exists in non-mathematically minded people, but also happen to be gifted writers as well. That has allowed us to curate selections that are appropriate for everyone from high-level number crunchers to teenagers to history buffs and more. Many of the titles here were penned to instill a sense of awe and wonder at the beauty of math, as well as explain just how closely related it is to non-STEM subjects like art, politics, and philosophy.
For example, Prime Obsession was written for "the intelligent and curious but non-mathematical reader". The author attempted to sidestep calculus completely, but upon realizing that was too ambitious, settled for alternating chapters between history and biography and math exposition. The result is a volume that is challenging without being too inaccessible. God Created the Integers and the newly-added Infinite Powers were also written at around this level. Infinite Powers has the added benefit of being a great resource for filling in the gaps of a typical calculus textbook. To make room for it, we sadly said goodbye to A Concise History, although we still think it a worthwhile reference to pick up alongside a more comprehensive choice.
If you appreciate a coffee table-style book with plenty of visuals, then the similarly titled, yet very different, The Math Book and The Math Book: Big Ideas Simply Explained are ideal. Each pairs vibrant graphics, diagrams, and photos with authoritative text to provide coverage on complex ideas without overwhelming the reader. And for those looking for something extremely comprehensive, you can't go wrong with either A History of Mathematics or Journey Through Genius: The Great Theorems.