The best books about mathematicians and their lives

Gilbert Strang Author Of Introduction to Linear Algebra
By Gilbert Strang

Who am I?

A key event in my mathematical life was videotaping my linear algebra class (the MATH 18.06 course at MIT). This was the right moment when MIT created OpenCourseWare to describe all courses freely to the world—with some big classes on video. Linear algebra has had 12 million viewers and many of them write to me. So many people like to learn about mathematics and read about mathematicians—it is a great pleasure to help. I hope you will enjoy the OpenCourseWare videos (on YouTube too), the books about mathematical lives, and the Introduction to Linear Algebra that many students learn from. This is real mathematics.

I wrote...

Introduction to Linear Algebra

By Gilbert Strang,

Book cover of Introduction to Linear Algebra

What is my book about?

Linear algebra has taken its place beside calculus as the essential course in college mathematics. Instead of functions f(x) and their derivatives df/dx, linear algebra connects vectors v with matrices A. That matrix has n columns of numbers, and "A times v" produces a combination of those columns. This is the book that goes with Gilbert Strang's lectures at MIT – open to the whole world and already watched by more than 12 million viewers. Please feel free to watch Math 18.06 on MIT. 

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

The books I picked & why

Book cover of The Man Who Knew Infinity: A Life of the Genius Ramanujan

Why did I love this book?

I think the life and the work of Ramanujan is the most astonishing story of any mathematician. Everybody knows that 1/2 + 1/4 + 1/8 + ... adds to 1. Ramanujan wrote down infinite series like that but of amazing complexity. He was a self-taught and unknown genius in India, who found his way to England. His ideas are still being explored and developed— they go to the heart of mathematics. This book and the movie are simply inspiring.

By Robert Kanigel,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Man Who Knew Infinity as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?


A moving and enlightening look at the unbelievable true story of how gifted prodigy Ramanujan stunned the scholars of Cambridge University and revolutionized mathematics.

In 1913, a young unschooled Indian clerk wrote a letter to G H Hardy, begging the preeminent English mathematician's opinion on several ideas he had about numbers. Realizing the letter was the work of a genius, Hardy arranged for Srinivasa Ramanujan to come to England.

Thus began one of the most improbable and productive collaborations ever chronicled. With a passion for rich and evocative detail,…

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?

I well remember when Erdos came to MIT to visit my wonderful friend Gian-Carlo Rota. He traveled without money and without a place to stay. He depended entirely on friends. What he offered in return was something of much greater value: his ideas. A mathematician searches everywhere for the right problems to work on – not easy, not random, but opening a door from what we know to what we don't know. Erdos gave that ideal gift to his friends. If you wrote a paper with him, your Erdos number is 1.  

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 Do Not Erase: Mathematicians and Their Chalkboards

Why did I love this book?

The mathematics in this new book is purely visual – it is there on the board to think about. Questions are waiting patiently for new approaches. This book has photographs of chalk on blackboards all over the mathematical world. Many a cartoon shows a blinding mess of formulas and a goofy author – but these blackboards are the real thing.

By Jessica Wynne,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Do Not Erase as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A photographic exploration of mathematicians' chalkboards

"A mathematician, like a painter or poet, is a maker of patterns," wrote the British mathematician G. H. Hardy. In Do Not Erase, photographer Jessica Wynne presents remarkable examples of this idea through images of mathematicians' chalkboards. While other fields have replaced chalkboards with whiteboards and digital presentations, mathematicians remain loyal to chalk for puzzling out their ideas and communicating their research. Wynne offers more than one hundred stunning photographs of these chalkboards, gathered from a diverse group of mathematicians around the world. The photographs are accompanied by essays from each mathematician, reflecting on…

Alan Turing: The Enigma

By Andrew Hodges,

Book cover of Alan Turing: The Enigma

Why did I love this book?

Turing was the greatest mathematician in mid-century England—a codebreaker for the German codes and much much more. Turing machines are still the (abstract) computers that model what is possible and what is not. Alan Turing himself was gay when this was an unsolvable problem—and his life ended far too soon. He had so much to give.

By Andrew Hodges,

Why should I read it?

6 authors picked Alan Turing as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER The official book behind the Academy Award-winning film The Imitation Game, starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Keira Knightley It is only a slight exaggeration to say that the British mathematician Alan Turing (1912-1954) saved the Allies from the Nazis, invented the computer and artificial intelligence, and anticipated gay liberation by decades--all before his suicide at age forty-one. This New York Times-bestselling biography of the founder of computer science, with a new preface by the author that addresses Turing's royal pardon in 2013, is the definitive account of an extraordinary mind and life. Capturing both the inner…

Book cover of A Beautiful Mind: The Life of Mathematical Genius and Nobel Laureate John Nash

Why did I love this book?

This is the life story of John Nash—wonderful and then sad and then amazing and finally tragic. One of the brightest stars of his generation – overwhelmed by mental illness. Followed by a rare recovery and the Nobel Prize in Economics for his paper on n-person games. And finally, of all the endings that were impossible but still came true, he was killed in a taxi accident on his way home from Stockholm.  

By Sylvia Nasar,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked A Beautiful Mind as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

**Also an Academy Award–winning film starring Russell Crowe and Jennifer Connelly—directed by Ron Howard**

The powerful, dramatic biography of math genius John Nash, who overcame serious mental illness and schizophrenia to win the Nobel Prize.

“How could you, a mathematician, believe that extraterrestrials were sending you messages?” the visitor from Harvard asked the West Virginian with the movie-star looks and Olympian manner. “Because the ideas I had about supernatural beings came to me the same way my mathematical ideas did,” came the answer. “So I took them seriously.”

Thus begins the true story of John Nash, the mathematical genius who…

5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in mathematicians, mental disorders, and math?

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

Mathematicians Explore 35 books about mathematicians
Mental Disorders Explore 137 books about mental disorders
Math Explore 219 books about math

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like The Glamour Boys, The Hut Six Story, and Delusions of Intelligence if you like this list.