A year ago I gave a list of personal favorites for summer math reading. This past week I reached out to my math circle friends around Chicago and asked what math books excited them when they were younger.
Eugenia Cheng wrote, “The book that really inspired me when I was in high school was Godel, Escher, Bach. It’s pretty difficult, but I absolutely love the dialogues preceding each chapter because they demonstrate the principles being discussed by their structure as well as by their contents. I like the fact that the dialogues can be read almost by themselves without the technical part of the book. This was something I was aspiring to when I was writing my book(s), especially the first one with the recipes at the start of each chapter. Of course I also love the connection with Bach who I’d say is my favorite composer if I’m pushed to name one.”
Sendhil Revuluri is the Secretary of MC2’s board, and has taught in many contexts, including a stint in New York City. “I loved using The Number Devil with students because it builds central ideas of number theory through concrete examples embedded in a narrative with a child as the protagonist. The book is friendly and accessible to kids from about 4th grade on up, while having substantial mathematical content for students up to high school. (It’s even better if the reader has some time to think through the math herself!) PS: Also The Phantom Tollbooth!“
Another MC2 Board Member and long time Whitney Young teacher Matt Moran wrote in while coaching the Chicago All-Star team at the national ARML competition. He couldn’t help but recommend a primer for problem solving, Polya’s Mathematics and Plausible Reasoning, Vol 1: Induction and Analogy in Mathematics. “This is one of the first books that showed me the creativity involved in doing mathematics. Pólya walks through many great examples where the messy details and guesses are explained, and the process of making good guesses about a problem is broken down for the reader. Hey, if you like it, there’s a Volume 2!”
PJ Karafiol, MC2’s board chair wrote in to remind me, sadly, that the logician Raymond Smullyan passed away this past year, and it would be timely to recommend What is the Name of this Book?, a famous collection of puzzles and paradoxes.
I’ve been reading Eugenia’s new book, Beyond Infinity: An Expedition to the Outer Limits of Mathematics. I was enjoying it immensely when I was interrupted by my 11 year old son Devin, who took it when I wasn’t looking! Devin said, “The way Eugenia Cheng uses examples really helps you understand the things that would be very confusing otherwise. Using her examples even I am able to understand what she’s saying. When she talks about rational and irrational numbers, when she gives the example of how it makes sense for some foods why you wouldn’t like them such as her hot chilis because they hurt your mouth but while for some others you just simply don’t like it.” Which is what I more or less wanted to say–she’s really committed to the reader’s understanding. Highly recommended!