I was one of those kids who always had a book at the table or on a road trip, and although I’m now too polite to read over dinner with people, I’m still an avid reader. I try to read books from a wide range of authors, genres, and time periods. For a few years now, I have used the Popsugar Reading Challenge as a way to inspire me to read outside my comfort zone. When I picked up their list this year, I thought to myself, “Too bad there isn’t something like this for math books.” (Unsurprisingly, my yearly reading list is always heavy on the math books, and the Popsugar challenge is not.) Then I realized I could make it happen.
Below are 12 prompts to guide your math-related reading in the coming year, along with two or three books you could (but are in no way obligated to) choose for each prompt. This is not a competition and there are no prizes. Feel free to interpret the prompts in any way you wish and count one book for multiple prompts if that’s your style. I’ve set up a public Goodreads group for anyone who is interested in making recommendations or discussing the books they are reading for this challenge. There are threads for each prompt, as well as some general discussion threads. I have not been a moderator of a Goodreads group before, so please bear with me if there are any hiccups as I get this figured out.
- A work of fiction in which a main character is a mathematician
The Housekeeper and the Professor by Yōko Ogawa
Binti by Nnedi Okorafor
The Mathematician’s Shiva by Stuart Rojstaczer
- A math-related book published the year you were born
For me, that’s 1983. Your mileage may vary.
Discrete mathematics : A Computational Approach Using BASIC by Marvin Marcus
Invitation to Geometry by Z. A. Melzak
- A biography of a mathematician
Remembering Sofya Kovalevskaya by Michele Audin
John Napier: Life, Logarithms, and Legacy by Julian Havil
Julia: A Life in Mathematics by Constance Reid
- A math book that helps you make something
Crafting Conundrums: Puzzles and Patterns for the Bead Crochet Artist by Ellie Baker and Susan Goldstine
Making Mathematics with Needlework, edited by sarah-marie belcastro and Carolyn Yackel
Crocheting Adventures with Hyperbolic Planes by Daina Taimina
- A book with a number in the title
Life of Pi by Yann Martel
The 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins by Dr. Seuss
- A book related to number theory
An Illustrated Theory of Numbers by Martin H. Weissman
Prime Numbers and the Riemann Hypothesis by Barry Mazur and William Stein
- A nonfiction math book written by a woman
Beyond Infinity: An Expedition to the Outer Limits of Mathematics by Eugenia Cheng
Mathematics in India by Kim Plofker
Power in Numbers: The Rebel Women of Mathematics by Talithia Williams
- A graphic novel about math or mathematicians
Prime Suspects by Andrew Granville and Jennifer Granville
The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage by Sydney Padua
Logicomix by Apostolos Doxiadis and Christos Papadimitriou
- A book about connections between math and the arts
Music: A Mathematical Offering by Dave Benson
Opt Art: From Mathematical Optimization to Visual Design by Robert Bosch
Math Art: Truth, Beauty, and Equations by Stephen Ornes
- A book of poetry with mathematical themes
Strange Attractors: Poems of Love and Mathematics, edited by Sarah Glaz and JoAnne Growney
Proportions of the Heart: Poems that Play with Mathematics by Emily Grosholz
- A children’s or YA book about math or mathematicians
Hidden Human Computers: The Black Women of NASA by Sue Bradford Edwards and Duchess Harris
The Boy Who Loved Math: The Improbable Life of Paul Erdős by Deborah Heiligman and LeUyen Pham
- A math-related book you want to give to someone who isn’t sure whether they like math
How Not to Be Wrong by Jordan Ellenberg
Things to Make and Do in the Fourth Dimension by Matt Parker
The Joy of X by Steven Strogatz
Here is a pdf you can print out to track your progress. Feel free to connect with me and other math readers via the Goodreads group or on Twitter using the #MathReadingChallenge2020 hashtag. If you’re looking for another place to discuss math-related books, check out the LThMath Book Club, also on Goodreads. For mathematical fiction inspiration, check out Alex Kasman’s page about Math Fiction. If we have fun with this, maybe we’ll do it again in 2021.
Happy math reading!
The views expressed are those of the author(s) and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.
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