100 books like Descartes' Dream

By Philip J. Davis, Reuben Hersh,

Here are 100 books that Descartes' Dream fans have personally recommended if you like Descartes' Dream. Shepherd is a community of 10,000+ authors and super readers sharing their favorite books with the world.

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

Book cover of Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid

Dan Moller Author Of The Way of Bach: Three Years with the Man, the Music, and the Piano

From my list on Bach, music, and the piano.

Why am I passionate about this?

I’m a professor of philosophy at the University of Maryland interested in politics, ethics, and art. Philosophers are often unpopular loners who are passionate about their ideas, and so are musicians like Bach. When I teach Socrates and the trial that led to his death I can’t help but think of Bach, who was rejected from job after job in favor of mediocrities, and whose music was considered offensive by parishioners and obsolete by musicians by the end of his life. These figures endear themselves to me not just because of the ideas themselves, but because they had to fight so hard for what they believed in.

Dan's book list on Bach, music, and the piano

Dan Moller Why did Dan love this book?

This book picks up where Evening in the Palace of Reason leaves off, with Bach composing the Musical Offering on a horrible theme from King Frederick.

It explains canons and fugues, and thus helps you understand Bach’s work better, but it then goes on a safari through the intellectual landscape of ideas related to fugues–strange loops, self-similarity, recursion, and of course the guys in the title. It’s not for everyone, but if you like any two of logic, philosophy, or music, give this a try.

By Douglas R. Hofstadter,

Why should I read it?

13 authors picked Gödel, Escher, Bach as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Douglas Hofstadter's book is concerned directly with the nature of maps" or links between formal systems. However, according to Hofstadter, the formal system that underlies all mental activity transcends the system that supports it. If life can grow out of the formal chemical substrate of the cell, if consciousness can emerge out of a formal system of firing neurons, then so too will computers attain human intelligence. Goedel, Escher, Bach is a wonderful exploration of fascinating ideas at the heart of cognitive science: meaning, reduction, recursion, and much more.


Book cover of Riddles in Mathematics: A Book of Paradoxes

Ian Stewart Author Of Flatterland: Like Flatland Only More So

From my list on to find out why math isn’t what you think.

Why am I passionate about this?

As a kid I read every popular math book I could lay my hands on. When I became a mathematician I wanted to do more than teaching and research. I wanted to tell everyone what a wonderful and vital subject math is. I started writing popular math books, and soon was up to my neck in radio, TV, news media, magazines... For 12 years I wrote the mathematical Recreations Column for Scientific American. I was only the second mathematician in 170 years to deliver the Royal Institution Christmas Lectures, on TV with a live tiger. The University changed my job description: half research, half ‘outreach’. I had my dream job.

Ian's book list on to find out why math isn’t what you think

Ian Stewart Why did Ian love this book?

I was given this book when I was about 15, and devoured it. It is an eclectic collection of mathematical paradoxes, fallacies, and curiosities so strange that they seem impossible. Mathematical magic tricks, a proof that all numbers are equal, a proof that all triangles are isosceles, a curve whose length is infinite but whose area is finite, a curve that crosses itself at every point, a curve that fills the interior of a square. Infinities that are bigger than other infinities. The Saint Petersburg Paradox in probability, a calculation that you should pay the bank an infinite amount of money to play one fair coin-tossing game. The smallest number that cannot be named in fewer than thirteen words (which I’ve just named in twelve words).

By Eugene P. Northrop,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Two fathers and two sons leave town. This reduces the population of the town by three. True? Yes, if the trio consists of a father, son, and grandson. This entertaining collection consists of more than 200 such riddles, drawn from every branch of mathematics. Math enthusiasts of all ages will enjoy sharpening their wits with riddles rooted in areas from arithmetic to calculus, covering a wide range of subjects that includes geometry, trigonometry, algebra, concepts of the infinite, probability, and logic. But only an elementary knowledge of mathematics is needed to find amusement in this imaginative collection, which features complete…


Book cover of Four Colors Suffice: How the Map Problem Was Solved

Ian Stewart Author Of Flatterland: Like Flatland Only More So

From my list on to find out why math isn’t what you think.

Why am I passionate about this?

As a kid I read every popular math book I could lay my hands on. When I became a mathematician I wanted to do more than teaching and research. I wanted to tell everyone what a wonderful and vital subject math is. I started writing popular math books, and soon was up to my neck in radio, TV, news media, magazines... For 12 years I wrote the mathematical Recreations Column for Scientific American. I was only the second mathematician in 170 years to deliver the Royal Institution Christmas Lectures, on TV with a live tiger. The University changed my job description: half research, half ‘outreach’. I had my dream job.

Ian's book list on to find out why math isn’t what you think

Ian Stewart Why did Ian love this book?

The Four Color Problem was one of the most baffling questions in mathematics for over 120 years. First posed in 1852, it asks whether every map can be colored with four colors, or fewer, so that regions adjacent along a boundary have different colors. The answer (yes) was finally obtained in 1976, with massive computer assistance. This method was initially controversial, but the result is now firmly established. This highly readable account, with full-color illustrations, opens up the history and the personalities who tackled this topological enigma, as well as making the mathematics comprehensible. The path to the final solution is littered with blunders and mistakes, but also illustrates how mathematicians can join forces across the generations to chip away at a problem until it cracks wide open. 

By Robin J. Wilson,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Four Colors Suffice as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

On October 23, 1852, Professor Augustus De Morgan wrote a letter to a colleague, unaware that he was launching one of the most famous mathematical conundrums in history--one that would confound thousands of puzzlers for more than a century. This is the amazing story of how the "map problem" was solved. The problem posed in the letter came from a former student: What is the least possible number of colors needed to fill in any map (real or invented) so that neighboring counties are always colored differently? This deceptively simple question was of minimal interest to cartographers, who saw little…


Book cover of Wonders Beyond Numbers: A Brief History of All Things Mathematical

Ian Stewart Author Of Flatterland: Like Flatland Only More So

From my list on to find out why math isn’t what you think.

Why am I passionate about this?

As a kid I read every popular math book I could lay my hands on. When I became a mathematician I wanted to do more than teaching and research. I wanted to tell everyone what a wonderful and vital subject math is. I started writing popular math books, and soon was up to my neck in radio, TV, news media, magazines... For 12 years I wrote the mathematical Recreations Column for Scientific American. I was only the second mathematician in 170 years to deliver the Royal Institution Christmas Lectures, on TV with a live tiger. The University changed my job description: half research, half ‘outreach’. I had my dream job.

Ian's book list on to find out why math isn’t what you think

Ian Stewart Why did Ian love this book?

One of the friendliest routes into mathematics, for many people, is its history. In math, unlike many sciences, ideas last indefinitely. Pythagoras’s Theorem is about 4,000 years old, understood in ancient Babylon a thousand years before Pythagoras was born. It was true then, and it is still true today. The history of math tells of the construction of a towering edifice, with each new level built on top of the previous ones. There are many histories of mathematics, but none quite like this one. The author is a much-loved English TV personality, famous for his enthusiasm for math and his ability to make it entertaining for children of all ages. His book is a rollicking yarn, a wild ride that nonetheless remains true to its subject.

By Johnny Ball,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Wonders Beyond Numbers as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In this book, Johnny Ball tells one of the most important stories in world history - the story of mathematics.

By introducing us to the major characters and leading us through many historical twists and turns, Johnny slowly unravels the tale of how humanity built up a knowledge and understanding of shapes, numbers and patterns from ancient times, a story that leads directly to the technological wonderland we live in today. As Galileo said, 'Everything in the universe is written in the language of mathematics', and Wonders Beyond Numbers is your guide to this language.

Mathematics is only one part…


Book cover of The Beginner's Guide to Constructing the Universe: The Mathematical Archetypes of Nature, Art, and Science

Elizabeth E. Botchis Author Of Awakening the Holographic Human: Nature's Path to Healing and Higher Consciousness

From my list on healing ourselves and our planet.

Why am I passionate about this?

Lilli Botchis, PhD, is a psycho-spiritual counselor, educator, and vibrational medicine developer with four decades of experience in advanced body/soul wellness and the development of higher consciousness. Her expertise includes botanicals, gems, color, flower essences, bio-energy therapies, and holographic soul readings. Lilli is an alchemist, mystic, and translator of Nature’s language as it speaks to our soul. A brilliant researcher in the field of consciousness, she understands the interconnectedness of Nature and the human being and is known as an extraordinary emissary of the natural world. Lilli has been inducted into the Sovereign Order of St. John of Jerusalem, Knights Hospitaller. Many seek her out for her visionary insights and compassionate wisdom.

Elizabeth's book list on healing ourselves and our planet

Elizabeth E. Botchis Why did Elizabeth love this book?

According to Michael Schneider, "The universe may be a mystery, but it's no secret." This book is a comprehensive yet simple visual guide to understanding the hidden meaning in the mathematical composition of all physical form. It is fun and fascinating to discover the sacred geometry visible throughout nature, in flowers, crystals, plants, shells, and the human body. You don't have to be a mathematician to see the beauty and symmetry of these patterns in every expression of God's creation, once revealed.

By Michael S. Schneider,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Beginner's Guide to Constructing the Universe as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Discover how mathematical sequences abound in our natural world in this definitive exploration of the geography of the cosmos

You need not be a philosopher or a botanist, and certainly not a mathematician, to enjoy the bounty of the world around us. But is there some sort of order, a pattern, to the things that we see in the sky, on the ground, at the beach? In A Beginner's Guide to Constructing the Universe, Michael Schneider, an education writer and computer consultant, combines science, philosophy, art, and common sense to reaffirm what the ancients observed: that a consistent language of…


Book cover of Synthetic Philosophy of Contemporary Mathematics

Rocco Gangle Author Of Diagrammatic Immanence: Category Theory and Philosophy

From my list on mathematics for the philosophically inclined.

Why am I passionate about this?

Philosophy’s core questions have always obsessed me: What is real? What makes life worth living? Can knowledge be made secure? In graduate school at the University of Virginia I was drawn to mathematically formalized approaches to such questions, especially those of C. S. Peirce and Alain Badiou. More recently, alongside colleagues at Endicott College’s Center for Diagrammatic and Computational Philosophy and GCAS College Dublin I have explored applications of diagrammatic logic, category theory, game theory, and homotopy type theory to such problems as abductive inference and artificial intelligence. Philosophers committed to the perennial questions have much to gain today from studying the new methods and results of contemporary mathematics.

Rocco's book list on mathematics for the philosophically inclined

Rocco Gangle Why did Rocco love this book?

Zalamea’s book is the perfect introduction and survey if you want to understand how developments in contemporary mathematics are relevant to current philosophy.

Zalamea’s own approach follows closely in the steps of Peirce, Lautman, and Grothendieck, merging pragmatism, dialectics, and sheaf theory, but he also engages the work of dozens of other key mathematicians and philosophers coming from different points of view, sometimes cursorily, always tantalizingly.

No philosopher can read this book without a quickened heartbeat and eager plans to clear shelf space for some of the many volumes of mathematics and philosophy of mathematics canvassed here by Zalamea.

By Fernando Zalamea, Zachery Luke Fraser (translator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Synthetic Philosophy of Contemporary Mathematics as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A panoramic survey of the vast spectrum of modern and contemporary mathematics and the new philosophical possibilities they suggest.

A panoramic survey of the vast spectrum of modern and contemporary mathematics and the new philosophical possibilities they suggest, this book gives the inquisitive non-specialist an insight into the conceptual transformations and intellectual orientations of modern and contemporary mathematics.

The predominant analytic approach, with its focus on the formal, the elementary and the foundational, has effectively divorced philosophy from the real practice of mathematics and the profound conceptual shifts in the discipline over the last century. The first part discusses the…


Book cover of Proofs and Refutations

William Byers Author Of How Mathematicians Think: Using Ambiguity, Contradiction, and Paradox to Create Mathematics

From my list on thinking, creativity, and mathematics.

Why am I passionate about this?

I'm a mathematician but an unusual one because I am interested in how mathematics is created and how it is learned. From an early age, I loved mathematics because of the beauty of its concepts and the precision of its organization and reasoning. When I started to do research I realized that things were not so simple. To create something new you had to suspend or go beyond your rational mind for a while. I realized that the learning and creating of math have non-logical features. This was my eureka moment. It turned the conventional wisdom (about what math is and how it is done) on its head.

William's book list on thinking, creativity, and mathematics

William Byers Why did William love this book?

Lots of people have a priori ideas about what mathematics is all about but Lakatos had the brilliant idea of looking at what actually happened. His book is all about one famous theorem: “for all regular polyhedra, V – E + F =2, where V is the number of vertices, E is the number of edges, and F is the number of faces.  Think of a cube where V=8, E = 12, F = 6.  

We tend to think that mathematics proceeds from a well-defined hypothesis to conclusion. But that is only the finishing step. Along the way the definitions keep changing as do the hypotheses and even the conclusion. Everything is moving! This is what makes doing mathematics so exciting!

By Imre Lakatos,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Imre Lakatos's Proofs and Refutations is an enduring classic, which has never lost its relevance. Taking the form of a dialogue between a teacher and some students, the book considers various solutions to mathematical problems and, in the process, raises important questions about the nature of mathematical discovery and methodology. Lakatos shows that mathematics grows through a process of improvement by attempts at proofs and critiques of these attempts, and his work continues to inspire mathematicians and philosophers aspiring to develop a philosophy of mathematics that accounts for both the static and the dynamic complexity of mathematical practice. With a…


Book cover of Modal Homotopy Type Theory: The Prospect of a New Logic for Philosophy

Rocco Gangle Author Of Diagrammatic Immanence: Category Theory and Philosophy

From my list on mathematics for the philosophically inclined.

Why am I passionate about this?

Philosophy’s core questions have always obsessed me: What is real? What makes life worth living? Can knowledge be made secure? In graduate school at the University of Virginia I was drawn to mathematically formalized approaches to such questions, especially those of C. S. Peirce and Alain Badiou. More recently, alongside colleagues at Endicott College’s Center for Diagrammatic and Computational Philosophy and GCAS College Dublin I have explored applications of diagrammatic logic, category theory, game theory, and homotopy type theory to such problems as abductive inference and artificial intelligence. Philosophers committed to the perennial questions have much to gain today from studying the new methods and results of contemporary mathematics.

Rocco's book list on mathematics for the philosophically inclined

Rocco Gangle Why did Rocco love this book?

The Univalent Foundations program in foundations of mathematics launched by Voevodsky and others in the past decade and a half has contributed to a promising new paradigm unifying computation, mathematics, logic, and proof theory.

Understanding the core elements of this research program, Homotopy Type Theory, is essential for contemporary philosophers who want to engage directly with current developments in mathematics and computer science.

Corfield is a well-established name in philosophy of mathematics, and this book is the best introduction to Homotopy Type Theory for philosophers.

Working within themes and problematics that will be familiar to philosophers with a basic background in logic, Corfield covers the elementary constructions of homotopy types from a logical point of view and provides plenty of provocative suggestions for how these formal tools might reinvigorate philosophical research today.

By David Corfield,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Modal Homotopy Type Theory as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

"The old logic put thought in fetters, while the new logic gives it wings."

For the past century, philosophers working in the tradition of Bertrand Russell - who promised to revolutionise philosophy by introducing the 'new logic' of Frege and Peano - have employed predicate logic as their formal language of choice. In this book, Dr David Corfield presents a comparable revolution with a newly emerging logic - modal homotopy type theory.

Homotopy type theory has recently been developed as a new foundational language for mathematics, with a strong philosophical pedigree. Modal Homotopy Type Theory: The Prospect of a New…


Book cover of Philosophy and Model Theory

Rocco Gangle Author Of Diagrammatic Immanence: Category Theory and Philosophy

From my list on mathematics for the philosophically inclined.

Why am I passionate about this?

Philosophy’s core questions have always obsessed me: What is real? What makes life worth living? Can knowledge be made secure? In graduate school at the University of Virginia I was drawn to mathematically formalized approaches to such questions, especially those of C. S. Peirce and Alain Badiou. More recently, alongside colleagues at Endicott College’s Center for Diagrammatic and Computational Philosophy and GCAS College Dublin I have explored applications of diagrammatic logic, category theory, game theory, and homotopy type theory to such problems as abductive inference and artificial intelligence. Philosophers committed to the perennial questions have much to gain today from studying the new methods and results of contemporary mathematics.

Rocco's book list on mathematics for the philosophically inclined

Rocco Gangle Why did Rocco love this book?

Far too many math books are written in a style so terse and ungenerous that all but the most mathematically gifted readers hardly have a fair chance of understanding.

On the other hand, the discursive style of much philosophy of mathematics gains readability at the expense of formal rigor. Button and Walsh strike the perfect balance in this exceptionally rich introduction to model theory from a distinctively philosophical perspective.

There’s no getting around the fact that the mathematics of model theory is hard going. But this book works through all the relevant proofs in clear and detailed terms (no lazy “we leave this as an exercise for the reader”), and the authors are always careful to motivate each section with well-chosen philosophical concerns right up front.

An Everest, but worth it.

By Tim Button, Sean Walsh,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Model theory is used in every theoretical branch of analytic philosophy: in philosophy of mathematics, in philosophy of science, in philosophy of language, in philosophical logic, and in metaphysics.
But these wide-ranging uses of model theory have created a highly fragmented literature. On the one hand, many philosophically significant results are found only in mathematics textbooks: these are aimed squarely at mathematicians; they typically presuppose that the reader has a serious background in mathematics; and little clue is given as to their philosophical significance. On the other hand, the philosophical applications of these results are scattered across disconnected pockets of…


Book cover of The Lives of Literature: Reading, Teaching, Knowing

Robert F. Barsky Author Of Clamouring for Legal Protection: What the Great Books Teach Us about People Fleeing from Persecution

From my list on to help us harness the ‘classics’ to address crises.

Why am I passionate about this?

I have taught a broad array of humanities and social sciences courses over the years, sometimes employing case studies from the realm of law, most notably stories about undocumented migrants, refugees, or homeless people. I’ve also had occasion to teach in law schools, usually in ways that bridge the gap between the legality of forced displacement, and the lived experiences of those who have done it. I won a Rockefeller Foundation grant to write my newest book, Clamouring for Legal Protection, in which I considered the idea that we can learn a lot about refugees and vulnerable migrants with references to people we know well: Ulysses, Dante, Satan, and even Alice in Wonderland.

Robert's book list on to help us harness the ‘classics’ to address crises

Robert F. Barsky Why did Robert love this book?

Weinstein takes the age-old question – what is literature? – and transforms it into why we (would want to) read literature. For him, literature changes us, allows us to be someone else, and provides us insight into the world we inhabit, and many more worlds we haven’t. He reads a broad array of works, from Sophocles to James Joyce and Toni Morrison, and thinks about such issues as identification, empathy, and sympathy with those we come to ‘know’ through our reading.

By Arnold Weinstein,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Mixing passion and humor, a personal work of literary criticism that demonstrates how the greatest books illuminate our lives

Why do we read literature? For Arnold Weinstein, the answer is clear: literature allows us to become someone else. Literature changes us by giving us intimate access to an astonishing variety of other lives, experiences, and places across the ages. Reflecting on a lifetime of reading, teaching, and writing, The Lives of Literature explores, with passion, humor, and whirring intellect, a professor's life, the thrills and traps of teaching, and, most of all, the power of literature to lead us to…


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in math, philosophy, and presidential biography?

10,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about math, philosophy, and presidential biography.

Math Explore 257 books about math
Philosophy Explore 1,617 books about philosophy
Presidential Biography Explore 19 books about presidential biography