100 books like Men of Mathematics

By E.T. Bell,

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

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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 Cosmos

Ursula Goodenough Author Of The Sacred Depths of Nature: How Life Has Emerged and Evolved

From my list on an ecospiritual orientation.

Why am I passionate about this?

I’m working with others to develop what we call a religious naturalist orientation or an ecospiritual orientation, and these books have deeply guided my path and inspired the writing of my own book. 

Ursula's book list on an ecospiritual orientation

Ursula Goodenough Why did Ursula love this book?

Astronomer Carl Sagan can be said to have launched the ecospiritual/religious naturalist trajectory with this book, upon which the TV series was based, later writing: A religion that stressed the magnificence of the universe as revealed by modern science, might be able to draw forth reserves of reverence and awe hardly tapped by the conventional faiths. Sooner or later such a religion will emerge.”

Two seminal quotes: “The nitrogen in our DNA, the calcium in our teeth, the iron in our blood, the carbon in our apple pies were made in the interiors of collapsing stars. We are made of starstuff.” “We are a way for the cosmos to know itself.”

By Carl Sagan,

Why should I read it?

7 authors picked Cosmos as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

* Spacecraft missions to nearby planets
* The Library of ancient Alexandria
* The human brain
* Egyptian hieroglyphics
* The origin of life
* The death of the sun
* The evolution of galaxies
* The origins of matter, suns and worlds

The story of fifteen billion years of cosmic evolution transforming matter and life into consciousness, of how science and civilisation grew up together, and of the forces and individuals who helped shape modern science. A story told with Carl Sagan's remarkable ability to make scientific ideas both comprehensible and exciting.


Book cover of Einstein's Dreams

Mario Livio Author Of Galileo: And the Science Deniers

From my list on science, mathematics, and philosophy.

Why am I passionate about this?

Mario Livio is an astrophysicist and author of seven popular science books, including the bestsellers The Golden Ratio and Brilliant Blunders. He worked for 24 years (till 2015) with the Hubble Space Telescope, and published more than 500 scientific papers. He lectures regularly to the general public, and has appeared on television programs ranging from 60 Minutes to NOVA to The Daily Show.

Mario's book list on science, mathematics, and philosophy

Mario Livio Why did Mario love this book?

An enthralling, fictional description of a young scientist (Einstein) and his dreams/thoughts about space, time, relativity, and the nature of reality. The book fictionalizes Einstein’s dreams in 1905, his “Annus Mirabilis” (“Miracle Year”), in which he wrote four fundamental papers, including one on his theory of Special Relativity. While this is a work of fiction, the physics concepts are beautifully explained.

By Alan Lightman,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Einstein's Dreams as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

It is ten minutes past six by the invisible clock on the wall. The young patents clerk sprawls in his chair, dreaming about time. He is Albert Einstein, and in his dreams he imagines new worlds, in which time can be circular, or flow backwards, or slow down at higher altitudes.


Book cover of A History of Western Philosophy

Michael E. Long Author Of The Molecule of More: How a Single Chemical in Your Brain Drives Love, Sex, and Creativity—and Will Determine the Fate of the Human Race

From my list on finding your place in the world.

Why am I passionate about this?

I’m interested in everything – which is a problem, because there’s not time for everything. So how do you find the best of the world and your own place in it? Understanding your motivations is a good place to start, hence The Molecule of More. The rest comes from exploring as much as you can, and that begins with understanding the scope of what’s out there: ideas, attitudes, and cultures. The greatest joy in my life comes from the jaw-dropping realization that the world is so full of potential and wonder. These books are a guide to some of the best of it, and some of the breadth of it.

Michael's book list on finding your place in the world

Michael E. Long Why did Michael love this book?

Whatever those deep questions are that you have, somebody’s already thought about them, and this masterwork of a book will show you that you’re not alone. In fact, you’re thinking and feeling the same way women and men did a couple thousand years ago – and some very wise individuals have thought through what you’re thinking through. This book will change your life and your mind. You have to be patient, but it’s worth it. Read three pages (no more) a day, every day. Plan on sticking with this for more than a year, then do so. Use a highlighter for a bookmark. It changed me. It’ll change you, too.

By Bertrand Russell,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked A History of Western Philosophy as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

First published in 1946, History of Western Philosophy went on to become the best-selling philosophy book of the twentieth century. A dazzlingly ambitious project, it remains unchallenged to this day as the ultimate introduction to Western philosophy. Providing a sophisticated overview of the ideas that have perplexed people from time immemorial, it is 'long on wit, intelligence and curmudgeonly scepticism', as the New York Times noted, and it is this, coupled with the sheer brilliance of its scholarship, that has made Russell's History of Western Philosophy one of the most important philosophical works of all time.


Book cover of QED: The Strange Theory of Light and Matter

Michael G. Raymer Author Of Quantum Physics: What Everyone Needs to Know

From my list on quantum physics and quantum technology for beginners.

Why am I passionate about this?

I am a professor of physics, passionate about researching physics and inspiring non-scientists to enjoy learning about physics. My research addresses how to use quantum physics to accelerate the development of quantum information science including quantum computing, quantum communications, and quantum measurement. My current projects are in developing quantum satellite communications, increasing the precision of telescopes, and constructing a quantum version of the Internet—the Quantum Internet. These topics revolve around quantum optics—the study of how light interacts with matter. I originated the idea of a National Quantum Initiative and lobbied the U.S. Congress to pass it into law, resulting in large investments in the new, exciting field of quantum technology.

Michael's book list on quantum physics and quantum technology for beginners

Michael G. Raymer Why did Michael love this book?

My second pick is by the master himself. Richard Feynman’s little book explains quantum electrodynamics or QED to a lay audience. Not only did he receive a Nobel Prize for his discoveries in this area, but Feynman was at the pinnacle of using deep understanding of physics to give the simplest possible yet accurate description of the world as seen through physics. He steps the reader slowly and carefully through some incredible journeys of logic (without equations) to explain how light travels from one place to another and how light interacts with matter such as electrons. It’s basic stuff, but deep and a fun ride. 

By Richard P. Feynman,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked QED as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Celebrated for his brilliantly quirky insights into the physical world, Nobel laureate Richard Feynman also possessed an extraordinary talent for explaining difficult concepts to the general public. Here Feynman provides a classic and definitive introduction to QED (namely, quantum electrodynamics), that part of quantum field theory describing the interactions of light with charged particles. Using everyday language, spatial concepts, visualizations, and his renowned "Feynman diagrams" instead of advanced mathematics, Feynman clearly and humorously communicates both the substance and spirit of QED to the layperson. A. Zee's introduction places Feynman's book and his seminal contribution to QED in historical context and…


Book cover of Hilbert

Steven Gimbel Author Of Einstein's Jewish Science: Physics at the Intersection of Politics and Religion

From my list on biographies of mathematicians and scientists.

Why am I passionate about this?

As a professor, I see students fascinated by science, but petrified to take a science class. This is in part because we have dehumanized science, removed the story, edited out the human, deleted the parts that allow people to connect with it. Science does not get delivered by gods, but is created by people: smart, quirky, sometimes immoral people. As a writer, my hope is to be able to reinsert life into readers’ understanding of our greatest advances. As a reader myself, I am deeply appreciative when other authors do it too.

Steven's book list on biographies of mathematicians and scientists

Steven Gimbel Why did Steven love this book?

David Hilbert was the most important mathematician at the dawn of the 20th century. In 1900, he gave the mathematical community its homework for the next 100 years setting out the list of open problems that had to be solved by 2000. While to the rest of the mathematicians, he may have appeared as their professor, he was also the class clown. As colorful and funny as he was brilliant, you cannot but come away loving this great mathematical genius.

By Constance Bowman Reid,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked Hilbert as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

"It presents a sensitive portrait of a great human being. It describes accurately and intelligibly on a nontechnical level the world of mathematical ideas in which Hilbert created his masterpieces. And it illuminates the background of German social history against which the drama of Hilberts life was played. Beyond this, it is a poem in praise of mathematics." -SCIENCE


Book cover of Newton: The Making of Genius

John Derbyshire Author Of Unknown Quantity: A Real and Imaginary History of Algebra

From my list on mathematical biographies.

Why am I passionate about this?

Bertrand Russell wrote that: “Mathematics, rightly viewed, possesses not only truth, but supreme beauty – a beauty cold and austere, like that of sculpture, without appeal to any part of our weaker nature, without the gorgeous trappings of painting or music, yet sublimely pure, and capable of a stern perfection such as only the greatest art can show.” I agree. Math is, however, a human thing, all tangled up with the nature of human personality and the history of our civilizations. Well-written biographies of great mathematicians put that “stern perfection” in a proper human context.

John's book list on mathematical biographies

John Derbyshire Why did John love this book?

When I was asked to review this book, my first instinct was to decline. Newton (1642-1727) was a towering genius but a dull fellow, with no interest in other human beings. He often published anonymously for fear that, he explained: "Public esteem, were I able to acquire and maintain it … would perhaps increase my acquaintance, the thing which I chiefly study to decline." How can a biographer make such a person interesting?

The author dodges very nimbly around this problem, giving us an account, not so much of the man as of his reputation and influence. Perhaps this means that her book is not a true biography, but it is done with such skill and wit, I include it anyway.

By Patricia Fara,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Isaac Newton has become an intellectual avatar for our modern age, the man who, as even children know, was inspired to codify nature's laws by watching an apple fall from a tree. Yet Newton devoted much of his energy to deciphering the mysteries of alchemy, theology, and ancient chronology. How did a man who was at first obscure to all but a few esoteric natural philosophers and Cambridge scholars, was preoccupied with investigations of millennial prophecies, and spent decades as Master of the London Mint become famous as the world's first great scientist? Patricia Fara demonstrates that Newton's reputation, surprisingly…


Book cover of Incompleteness: The Proof and Paradox of Kurt Gödel

John Derbyshire Author Of Unknown Quantity: A Real and Imaginary History of Algebra

From my list on mathematical biographies.

Why am I passionate about this?

Bertrand Russell wrote that: “Mathematics, rightly viewed, possesses not only truth, but supreme beauty – a beauty cold and austere, like that of sculpture, without appeal to any part of our weaker nature, without the gorgeous trappings of painting or music, yet sublimely pure, and capable of a stern perfection such as only the greatest art can show.” I agree. Math is, however, a human thing, all tangled up with the nature of human personality and the history of our civilizations. Well-written biographies of great mathematicians put that “stern perfection” in a proper human context.

John's book list on mathematical biographies

John Derbyshire Why did John love this book?

Gödel (1906-1978) is, like Newton, an unpromising subject for biography. He was antisocial and mentally unstable. His obsessive fear of being poisoned led eventually to him starving himself to death. 

Rebecca Goldstein is a professor of philosophy with a deep interest in logic and the foundations of mathematical truth – the applecart that Gödel overturned in 1931 with his tremendous paper on the incompleteness of axiomatic systems. She is also an experienced novelist. This combination makes her just the right person to construct a gripping story out of Gödel’s weirdness and world-shaking importance.

By Rebecca Goldstein,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Probing the life and work of Kurt Goedel, Incompleteness indelibly portrays the tortured genius whose vision rocked the stability of mathematical reasoning-and brought him to the edge of madness.


Book cover of Hypatia (1853) by Charles Kingsley: Novel

John Derbyshire Author Of Unknown Quantity: A Real and Imaginary History of Algebra

From my list on mathematical biographies.

Why am I passionate about this?

Bertrand Russell wrote that: “Mathematics, rightly viewed, possesses not only truth, but supreme beauty – a beauty cold and austere, like that of sculpture, without appeal to any part of our weaker nature, without the gorgeous trappings of painting or music, yet sublimely pure, and capable of a stern perfection such as only the greatest art can show.” I agree. Math is, however, a human thing, all tangled up with the nature of human personality and the history of our civilizations. Well-written biographies of great mathematicians put that “stern perfection” in a proper human context.

John's book list on mathematical biographies

John Derbyshire Why did John love this book?

This is a work of historical fiction by a master storyteller. I have been acquainted with Charles Kingsley (1819-1875) since being given The Water-Babies and Westward Ho! to read in childhood. Here he takes as his subject Hypatia of Alexandria (370-415), daughter of the mathematician and philosopher Theon. She was played by Rachel Weisz in the 2009 movie Agora.

Hypatia’s own contributions to mathematics are unclear. “All Hypatia's work is lost except for its titles and some references to it,” says her biographical entry in the MacTutor online history of math; but since she does have a MacTutor entry, I claim her as a mathematician.

Queen Victoria liked Hypatia so much she appointed Charles Kingsley personal tutor to her son, the future King Edward VII.

By Charles Kingsley,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Hypatia (1853) by Charles Kingsley as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Hypatia, or New Foes with an Old Face is an 1853 novel by the English writer Charles Kingsley. It is a fictionalised account of the life of the philosopher Hypatia, and tells the story of a young monk called Philammon who travels to Alexandria, where he becomes mixed up in the political and religious battles of the day. Although intended as Christian apologia, the novel has a deliberate anti-Catholic tone, and it also reflects Kingsley's other prejudices about race and religion, many of which were typical to the 19th century. For many years the book was considered one of Kingsley's…


Book cover of The Maxwellians

Basil Mahon Author Of The Forgotten Genius of Oliver Heaviside: A Maverick of Electrical Science

From my list on science to enjoy and to get you thinking.

Why am I passionate about this?

I have always had a fascination with science. It came not from school or college, where lessons were sometimes dull, but from books about the discoveries and the people who made them. After careers as a soldier and as a government statistician I felt impelled to spread the word by writing, or at least try. After 40 rejections, my first book – about James Clerk Maxwell – was published and, to my joy, found many readers. My aim in writing is simply to share enjoyment with readers in an equal partnership. And I hope always to leave the reader feeling that he or she really knows the people I am writing about.

Basil's book list on science to enjoy and to get you thinking

Basil Mahon Why did Basil love this book?

In telling us how four men with disparate but complementary talents came together to bring James Clerk Maxwell’s epoch-changing but hitherto obscure theory of electromagnetism to the world, Bruce Hunt somehow succeeds in combining the highest level of scholarship with a warm and engaging narrative. One gets to know Oliver Heaviside, Oliver Lodge, George Francis FitzGerald, and Heinrich Hertz, and to feel almost as though one were sharing their struggles and triumphs. I love this book.

By Bruce J. Hunt,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

James Clerk Maxwell published the Treatise on Electricity and Magnetism in 1873. At his death, six years later, his theory of the electromagnetic field was neither well understood nor widely accepted. By the mid-1890s, however, it was regarded as one of the most fundamental and fruitful of all physical theories. Bruce J. Hunt examines the joint work of a group of young British physicists-G. F. FitzGerald, Oliver Heaviside, and Oliver Lodge-along with a key German contributor, Heinrich Hertz. It was these "Maxwellians" who transformed the fertile but half-finished ideas presented in the Treatise into the concise and powerful system now…


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