The best books to read if you want to be a mathematician

Gary Chartrand Author Of Mathematical Proofs: A Transition to Advanced Mathematics
By Gary Chartrand

Who am I?

I have enjoyed mathematics and writing since I’ve been a kid, not only enjoying doing research in mathematics but assisting others to appreciate and enjoy mathematics. Along the way, I’ve gained an interest in the history of mathematics and the mathematicians who created mathematics. Perhaps most important, my primary goal has been to show others how enjoyable mathematics can be. Mathematics has given me the marvelous opportunity to meet and work with other mathematicians who have a similar passion for mathematics.

I wrote...

Mathematical Proofs: A Transition to Advanced Mathematics

By Gary Chartrand, Albert Polimeni, Ping Zhang

Book cover of Mathematical Proofs: A Transition to Advanced Mathematics

What is my book about?

Why was this book written? This is the book its three authors wish we had when we were students. If you have encountered calculus already, then what lies beyond it? This is what this book is all about. What exactly does a mathematician do? Some mathematicians simply enjoy mathematics – others also create new mathematics. They look for or observe patterns that suggest something appears to be true. If they guess correctly, then they need to convince others why it’s true, beyond any doubt. This is where proofs enter.

For example, the famous mathematician Ron Graham felt that all numbers (positive integers) are interesting. Suppose not. Then there is a smallest number that’s not interesting – which makes this number interesting. That’s a proof! 

Shepherd is reader supported. When you buy books, we may earn an affiliate commission.

The books I picked & why

Graph Theory in America: The First Hundred Years

By Robin J. Wilson, John J. Watkins, David J. Parks

Book cover of Graph Theory in America: The First Hundred Years

Why did I love this book?

Robin Wilson, the famous mathematical historian and storyteller with a great sense of humor, along with his co-authors, tell the story of how one particular area of mathematics (graph theory, my favorite area) got its start in the 18th and 19th centuries in Europe, found its way across the Atlantic to America, and what effect Americans had on this area of mathematics. It also tells the fascinating story of how and where more advanced mathematics became part of America. 

This book will be available Fall 2022.

By Robin J. Wilson, John J. Watkins, David J. Parks

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Graph Theory in America as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

How a new mathematical field grew and matured in America

Graph Theory in America focuses on the development of graph theory in North America from 1876 to 1976. At the beginning of this period, James Joseph Sylvester, perhaps the finest mathematician in the English-speaking world, took up his appointment as the first professor of mathematics at the Johns Hopkins University, where his inaugural lecture outlined connections between graph theory, algebra, and chemistry-shortly after, he introduced the word graph in our modern sense. A hundred years later, in 1976, graph theory witnessed the solution of the long-standing four color problem by…

Book cover of The Magic of Math: Solving for X and Figuring Out Why

Why did I love this book?

Have you ever been to a mathematics lecture where the speaker wore a tuxedo and baffled the audience with his mystifying knowledge of numbers? Well, I have and the speaker was Arthur Benjamin, who combined mathematics and magic. He even displayed this knowledge with Stephen Colbert on his earlier show The Colbert Report. It is our good fortune that he describes much of this mathematical wizardry in this fascinating book. 

By Arthur Benjamin,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Magic of Math as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A New York Times Bestseller Arthur Benjamin . . . joyfully shows you how to make nature's numbers dance." ,Bill Nye The Magic of Math is the math book you wish you had in school. Using a delightful assortment of examples,from ice-cream scoops and poker hands to measuring mountains and making magic squares,this book revels in key mathematical fields including arithmetic, algebra, geometry, and calculus, plus Fibonacci numbers, infinity, and, of course, mathematical magic tricks. Known throughout the world as the mathemagician," Arthur Benjamin mixes mathematics and magic to make the subject fun, attractive, and easy to understand for math…

Book cover of I Want to Be a Mathematician: An Automathography in Three Parts (Maa Spectrum Series)

Why did I love this book?

Told by one of the most famous orators and expositors of mathematics, Paul Halmos tells us what it’s like being a mathematician – at least what it was like for him being a mathematician. While I was fortunate to have had a conversation with such a unique person (about writing mathematics), it is even more fortunate that he has done many of us a favor by writing this book.

By Paul R. Halmos,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked I Want to Be a Mathematician as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

"I Want To Be A Mathematician" is an account of the author's life as a mathematician. It tells us what it is like to be a mathematician and to do mathematics. It will be read with interest and enjoyment by those in mathematics and by those who might want to know what mathematicians and mathematical careers are like. Paul Halmos is well-known for his research in ergodic theory, and measure theory. He is one of the most widely read mathematical expositors in the world.

Book cover of The Man Who Loved Only Numbers: The Story of Paul Erdos and the Search for Mathematical Truth

Why did I love this book?

Has there ever been a person whose entire life is dedicated to mathematics? The answer is yes and one person who fits this description was the Hungarian mathematician Paul Erdos. I, and many others, got to know Erdos and found that he was most comfortable when he was with others, discussing mathematics. He was constantly traveling about the world, visiting one mathematician after another, discussing mathematical problems.

No other person had so many co-authors. This resulted in rather comical numbers called Erdos numbers. If you wrote an article with him, you had Erdos number 1. If you wrote an article with someone with has Erdos number 1, you had Erdos number 2. And so on. This book tells us much about a mathematician who was like no other. 

By Paul Hoffman,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Man Who Loved Only Numbers as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The biography of a mathematical genius. Paul Erdos was the most prolific pure mathematician in history and, arguably, the strangest too.

'A mathematical genius of the first order, Paul Erdos was totally obsessed with his subject - he thought and wrote mathematics for nineteen hours a day until he died. He travelled constantly, living out of a plastic bag and had no interest in food, sex, companionship, art - all that is usually indispensible to a human life. Paul Hoffman, in this marvellous biography, gives us a vivid and strangely moving portrait of this singular creature, one that brings out…

Book cover of The Joy of X: A Guided Tour of Math, from One to Infinity

Why did I love this book?

There are books that simply tell us (or perhaps remind us) how mathematics can be interesting and fun. This delightful book is one of the best, describing how mathematics can be amazing, surprising, and beautiful, all at the same time. While mathematics has helped people accomplish so many things that we may have never dreamed of, this book shows us that mathematics can be popular as well. 

By Steven Strogatz,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Joy of X as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Award-winning Steven Strogatz, one of the foremost popularisers of maths, has written a witty and fascinating account of maths' most compelling ideas and how, so often, they are an integral part of everyday life.

Maths is everywhere, often where we don't even realise. Award-winning professor Steven Strogatz acts as our guide as he takes us on a tour of numbers that - unbeknownst to the unitiated - connect pop culture, literature, art, philosophy, current affairs, business and even every day life. In The Joy of X, Strogatz explains the great ideas of maths - from negative numbers to calculus, fat…

5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in mathematicians, math, and logic?

9,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about mathematicians, math, and logic.

Mathematicians Explore 37 books about mathematicians
Math Explore 227 books about math
Logic Explore 39 books about logic