The best math books with genuinely good drawings

Ben Orlin Author Of Math Games with Bad Drawings: 75 1/4 Simple, Challenging, Go-Anywhere Games--And Why They Matter
By Ben Orlin

The Books I Picked & Why

The Dot and the Line: A Romance in Lower Mathematics

By Norton Juster

Book cover of The Dot and the Line: A Romance in Lower Mathematics

Why this book?

Picking up this short picture book, I expected a dose of Phantom Toolbooth-esque wordplay. Not at all. This five-minute love story, about a line yearning for a dot, somehow enlarges into a meditation on geometric structure itself. From such a brief book, I didn’t expect new insights about how simple geometry underlies our most intricate thinking—but then again, that’s what delightful visuals will do for you.


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The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage: The (Mostly) True Story of the First Computer

By Sydney Padua

Book cover of The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage: The (Mostly) True Story of the First Computer

Why this book?

I had to read this one twice. First, with just the pictures, it’s a lighthearted steampunk fantasy: episodic tales of Victorian humor and cool mathematics. Second, reading the copious footnotes and endnotes, it’s something heftier: an exhaustively researched account of two pivotal figures in math history. Padua’s art is so skillful I’m not even jealous, just awed.


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Nature's Chaos

By James Gleick, Eliot Porter

Book cover of Nature's Chaos

Why this book?

I admire James Gleick’s Chaos. Who doesn’t? It’s a landmark book, a masterpiece of science writing. But let’s be real: it’s not exactly a beach read, is it? If Chaos is a complex aged wine, then this book is a simple autumn cider: a photographic collage of nature’s fractals, sweetened with a splash of Gleick’s lyrical prose.


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Anno's Math Games III

By Mitsumasa Anno

Book cover of Anno's Math Games III

Why this book?

I stumbled on this in a used bookstore. What a find! The old-school, kid-friendly illustrations lead swiftly from simple beginnings (“What happens when you stretch a painting?”) to the depths of undergraduate topology. I haven’t used this in the classroom yet, but honestly, I could imagine busting it out with anyone from first-graders to first-year PhD candidates.


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Am I Overthinking This?: Over-Answering Life's Questions in 101 Charts

By Michelle Rial

Book cover of Am I Overthinking This?: Over-Answering Life's Questions in 101 Charts

Why this book?

I adore these images. Each is like a tiny memoir wrapped in a graph. Even beyond the puzzle-like pleasure of decoding them, I love Rial’s playful use of real objects. Coffee rings form a Venn diagram about coffee addiction. Floss traces a line graph on dental hygiene. Half-eaten cheese sticks become the bars on a chart of cheese consumption. A delicious book, in every sense!


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