The best books on mathematics and life

Richard Hoshino Author Of The Math Olympian
By Richard Hoshino

Who am I?

I have devoted my entire career to mathematics, and have a life filled with meaning and purpose through my roles as an educator, researcher, and consultant. I teach at the Vancouver campus of Northeastern University and am the owner and principal of Hoshino Math Services, a boutique math consulting firm. 

I wrote...

The Math Olympian

By Richard Hoshino,

Book cover of The Math Olympian

What is my book about?

My book is about a small-town Canadian teenager named Bethany, who has an impossible dream: to represent her country at the International Math Olympiad. Through persistence, perseverance, and the support of innovative mentors who inspire her with a love of learning, Bethany overcomes numerous challenges and develops the creativity and confidence to reach her potential.

In training to become a world-champion "mathlete", Bethany discovers the heart of mathematics - a subject that's not about memorizing formulas, but rather about problem-solving and detecting patterns to uncover truth, as well as learning how to apply the deep and unexpected connections of mathematics to every aspect of her life. Through this journey, Bethany discovers that through mathematics, she can and she will make an extraordinary contribution to society.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Mathematics for Human Flourishing

Why did I love this book?

This remarkable book is authored by Francis Su, the past president of the Mathematical Association of America. The author describes human flourishing as follows: “a wholeness of being and doing, of realizing one’s potential and helping others do the same, of acting with honour and treating others with dignity.” He explains how human beings, of all ages and ability levels, can experience flourishing through the doing of mathematics.

In each of the final twelve chapters, the author explores a trait of mathematics, how it relates to our journey as humans, and how the development of each trait enables us to flourish: Exploration, Meaning, Play, Beauty, Permanence, Truth, Struggle, Power, Justice, Freedom, Community, Love. As a mathematical researcher and educator, I have experienced these traits first-hand, and recommend this book to anyone and everyone.

By Francis Su,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Mathematics for Human Flourishing as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Winner of the Mathematics Association of America's 2021 Euler Book Prize, this is an inclusive vision of mathematics-its beauty, its humanity, and its power to build virtues that help us all flourish

"This is perhaps the most important mathematics book of our time. Francis Su shows mathematics is an experience of the mind and, most important, of the heart."-James Tanton, Global Math Project

"A good book is an entertaining read. A great book holds up a mirror that allows us to more clearly see ourselves and the world we live in. Francis Su's Mathematics for Human Flourishing is both a…

Book cover of Our Days Are Numbered: How Mathematics Orders Our Lives

Why did I love this book?

For decades, the most famous opening chord in rock and roll was an unsolved problem, since no one could reproduce it. But in 2004, Jason Brown, a professor at Dalhousie University, used mathematics to recreate the opening chord of the Beatles hit song, “A Hard Day’s Night”. I remember when newspapers around the world reported on Jason’s findings, as I was at Dalhousie at the time, as one of Jason’s Ph.D. students.

Jason’s Beatles story serves as the final chapter in this wonderful book, a collection of short vignettes about how mathematics relates to every aspect of our lives, including garbage pickup routes, grocery shopping, political polling, and social networks. The book’s thesis is that as we understand mathematics better, our lives become more meaningful. I couldn’t agree more.    

By Jason I. Brown,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Our Days Are Numbered as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A revealing and entertaining look at the world, as viewed through mathematical eyeglasses.

From the moment our feet touch the floor in the morning until our head hits the pillow, numbers are everywhere. And yet most of us go through each day unaware of the mathematics that shapes our lives.

In fact, many people go through life fearing and avoiding mathematics, making choices that keep it at arm’s length or further. Even basic math — like arithmetic — can seem baffling.

In Our Days Are Numbered, Jason Brown leads the reader through a typical day, on a fascinating journey. He…

Book cover of The Theory That Would Not Die: How Bayes' Rule Cracked the Enigma Code, Hunted Down Russian Submarines, and Emerged Triumphant from Two Centuries of Controversy

Why did I love this book?

The full title of this wonderful book is The Theory That Would Not Die: How Bayes' Rule Cracked the Enigma Code, Hunted Down Russian Submarines, and Emerged Triumphant from Two Centuries of Controversy. Bayes’ Theorem is a one-line mathematical formula, named after a Scottish church minister, that calculates the updated probability of an event occurring given new information that we receive.  Applications of Bayes’ Theorem are diverse and profound, from recommendation systems to automated translation algorithms to weather prediction.

This well-researched book does a deep dive into the most important characters of mathematical statistics over the past three centuries, and explains how Bayes’ Theorem was used to solve problems that were deemed unsolvable, including cracking the German Enigma Machine during World War II. I teach Bayes’ Theorem in several of my courses, and have found much inspiration in McGrayne’s book.

By Sharon Bertsch McGrayne,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Theory That Would Not Die as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A New York Times Book Review Editor's Choice: A vivid account of the generations-long dispute over Bayes' rule, one of the greatest breakthroughs in the history of applied mathematics and statistics

"An intellectual romp touching on, among other topics, military ingenuity, the origins of modern epidemiology, and the theological foundation of modern mathematics."-Michael Washburn, Boston Globe

"To have crafted a page-turner out of the history of statistics is an impressive feat. If only lectures at university had been this racy."-David Robson, New Scientist

Bayes' rule appears to be a straightforward, one-line theorem: by updating our initial beliefs with objective new…

Book cover of The Art of Logic in an Illogical World

Why did I love this book?

The author explains the importance of abstraction in logic, demonstrating its three main components: paths made of long chains of logic, packages made of a collection of concepts structured into a new compound unit, and pivots to build bridges to previously disconnected places.

Eugenia Cheng does an excellent job of abstracting principles of logic to better understand challenging real-world societal issues such as affirmative action and cancer screening. I found it quite compelling to understand how and why she came to her positions on various issues, through her axiom that "avoiding false negatives is more important than avoiding false positives." I appreciated the expertise by which she weaved numerous hard topics, in both mathematics and social justice, into a coherent and compelling narrative.

By Eugenia Cheng,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Art of Logic in an Illogical World as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

How both logical and emotional reasoning can help us live better in our post-truth world

In a world where fake news stories change election outcomes, has rationality become futile? In The Art of Logic in an Illogical World, Eugenia Cheng throws a lifeline to readers drowning in the illogic of contemporary life. Cheng is a mathematician, so she knows how to make an airtight argument. But even for her, logic sometimes falls prey to emotion, which is why she still fears flying and eats more cookies than she should. If a mathematician can't be logical, what are we to do?…

Mind and Matter: A Life in Math and Football

By John Urschel, Louisa Thomas,

Book cover of Mind and Matter: A Life in Math and Football

Why did I love this book?

John Urschel is an African-American mathematician specializing in graph theory, who recently completed his Ph.D. in mathematics at MIT. But he is better known for his football career, as a starting offensive lineman for the Baltimore Ravens. Six of Urschel’s papers were completed while he was still in the National Football League.

Mind and Matter is John Urschel’s memoir, co-authored with his wife Louisa Thomas. Each chapter alternates between football and mathematics, and how his success on the field translated to success in the classroom, and vice-versa. I loved how accessible the book is, for readers of all ages, and I fully agree with the author’s perspective that mathematics gives us a way of making sense of the world, and helping us see past the confusion of everyday life.

By John Urschel, Louisa Thomas,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

A New York Times bestseller

John Urschel, mathematician and former offensive lineman for the Baltimore Ravens, tells the story of a life balanced between two passions

For John Urschel, what began as an insatiable appetite for puzzles as a child developed into mastery of the elegant systems and rules of mathematics. By the time he was thirteen, Urschel was auditing a college-level calculus course. But when he joined his high school football team, a new interest began to eclipse the thrill he felt in the classroom. Football challenged Urschel in an entirely different way, and he became addicted to the…

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