The best books about mathematicians and their lives

Gilbert Strang Author Of Introduction to Linear Algebra
By Gilbert Strang

The Books I Picked & Why

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

By Robert Kanigel

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

Why 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.


When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

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

By Paul Hoffman

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

Why 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.  


When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

Do Not Erase: Mathematicians and Their Chalkboards

By Jessica Wynne

Book cover of Do Not Erase: Mathematicians and Their Chalkboards

Why 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.


When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

Alan Turing: The Enigma

By Andrew Hodges

Book cover of Alan Turing: The Enigma

Why 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.


When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

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

By Sylvia Nasar

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

Why 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.  


When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

Closely Related Book Lists

Distantly Related Book Lists