The 10 Best History of Mathematics Books

Updated February 26, 2018 by Josh Darling

Mathematics for the Nonmathematician
Prime Obsession
Zero: The Biography of a Dangerous Idea
We spent 24 hours on research, videography, and editing, to review the top selections for this wiki. Many believe that a primary reason for the widespread dread many students experience regarding mathematics is due to how disconnected it feels from real life. By describing, in great and engaging detail, the lifetimes of human toil that it took to build what we know today, these books 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 support our work. Skip to the best history of mathematics book on Amazon.

10. A Concise History

Dirk Struik's A Concise History is exactly as its title purports it to be. It refrains from expounding on any of the great many topics mentioned, instead providing a tightly condensed reference for all of the major events, finds, and thinkers over time.
  • springboard for deeper research
  • covers very wide conceptual range
  • uses some archaic english
Publisher Dirk Jan Struik
Model n/a
Weight 9.6 ounces
Rating 4.1 / 5.0

9. Unknown Quantity: A Real and Imaginary History of Algebra

As is his modus operandi, John Derbyshire took a careful look at a particular area of the topic at hand with Unknown Quantity: A Real and Imaginary History of Algebra. Though many readers may take issue with the author's politics, this guy definitely knows his math.
  • eases novices into advanced algebra
  • brings inventors of algebra to life
  • contextualizes abstraction poorly
Publisher Unknown Quantity: A Rea
Model n/a
Weight pending
Rating 4.1 / 5.0

8. Prime Obsession

Prime Obsession examines what its subtitle terms as the "greatest unsolved problem in mathematics:" the vaunted Riemann Hypothesis. This book tells the story of the yet-to-be-concluded 150+ year search, sparked by a casual remark made by one of math's greatest thinkers.
  • in-depth look at 150-year period
  • intellectual call to adventure
  • some dense subject matter
Publisher Prime Obsession
Model n/a
Weight pending
Rating 3.6 / 5.0

7. Zero: The Biography of a Dangerous Idea

As much an exploration of a big idea as a look into the past, Zero: The Biography of a Dangerous Idea is an engaging read that has much to offer all curious folk, regardless of mathematical ability. Its filled to the brim with interesting tidbits and thought experiments.
  • gladwellian style nonfiction
  • touches on range of disparate topics
  • forces some conceptual connections
Publisher Penguin Books
Model n/a
Weight 6.4 ounces
Rating 4.1 / 5.0

6. The Math Book

For those looking more to skim the surface of this subject and are, perhaps, unready to tackle intricate proofs and theorems, The Math Book by Clifford Pickover is a great call. Its encyclopedic presentation and colorful diagrams make it well-suited as a coffee table read.
  • describes 250 historical milestones
  • ideal for visual learners
  • shallow coverage of complex topics
Publisher Sterling Publishing
Model n/a
Weight 2.8 pounds
Rating 3.9 / 5.0

5. Mathematics for the Nonmathematician

Though frequently maligned for its bad history, Mathematics for the Nonmathematician remains an enduring classic due to author Morris Kline's ability to reveal the hidden relevance of math to nearly everything in existence. It's the go-to book to convert math haters.
  • written by a beloved teacher
  • shows practicality of abstract ideas
  • downplays work of ancient asians
Publisher Mathematics for the Non
Model n/a
Weight 1.8 pounds
Rating 4.1 / 5.0

4. A History of Math

A college-level reference text with a foreword from the great Isaac Asimov, A History of Math is the rare textbook often read by those not taking a class. Its enduring success is indicative of the life it brings to a subject with an overwhelming tendency toward dryness.
  • deep analysis of mesopotamian math
  • focuses on the problem solvers
  • avoids historical eurocentrism
Publisher Carl B Boyer
Model n/a
Weight 1.7 pounds
Rating 4.2 / 5.0

3. God Created the Integers

God Created the Integers is a lengthy tome from a genius who needs no introduction. Stephen Hawking comments on, and lists a collection of, the greatest works of math in our collective lifespan, all reprinted in their original form.
  • excellent reference text
  • biographies of each mathematician
  • extreme intellectual challenge
Publisher Running Press
Model n/a
Weight 2.9 pounds
Rating 4.5 / 5.0

2. Fermat's Enigma

SImon Singh's Fermat's Enigma tells the tale of the centuries-long search for the missing proof of the brilliant Pierre de Fermat. Singh captures the hunt, eventual solution, and ensuing controversy with a flair for suspense typically reserved for crime novels.
  • connects history with modern times
  • testament to tenacity of humanity
  • dives deep into number theory
Publisher Singh, Simon
Model n/a
Weight 8 ounces
Rating 4.0 / 5.0

1. Journey Through Genius: The Great Theorems

With Journey Through Genius: The Great Theorems, author William Dunham successfully humanizes math, appraising its crowning achievements not as mere feats of technical mastery, but as creative masterpieces demonstrating the pinnacle of human ingenuity.
  • covers a 2300-year period
  • deep portraits of great minds
  • relates well to non mathematicians
Publisher Dunham, William
Model n/a
Weight 7.8 ounces
Rating 4.8 / 5.0

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Last updated on February 26, 2018 by Josh Darling

Born in historic Massachusetts, Josh is a freethinking young man with a heart of gold. Noted by many for his wit, grace, and humility, he enjoys reading, history, politics, videogames, baseball, and talking shop.

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