The most recommended recreational mathematics books

Who picked these books? Meet our 8 experts.

8 authors created a book list connected to recreational mathematics, and here are their favorite recreational math books.
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Book cover of Origami, Eleusis, and the Soma Cube: Martin Gardner's Mathematical Diversions

T.W. Körner Author Of The Pleasures of Counting

From my list on mathematical life.

Why am I passionate about this?

If you want to know what conducting an orchestra is like, you ask a conductor. If you want to know what being a mathematician is like, you ask a mathematician. I have been studying, researching, and teaching mathematics (mainly at Cambridge but also in France and elsewhere) for a lifetime and loved (almost) every moment of it. In the words of Constance Reid, `Mathematicians are people who devote their lives to what seems to me a wonderful kind of play.'

T.W.'s book list on mathematical life

T.W. Körner Why did T.W. love this book?

The Scientific American columns of Martin Gardner ran for 24 years and were read by amateurs, semi-amateurs, professionals, and major mathematicians (Conway, Knuth, Diaconis...). It was the interaction with this audience (recorded in addenda) which gave these essays their special quality and will give the interested outsider a real feel for what interests mathematicians. The collected columns are being reissued by the AMA and CUP but my view that anything by Martin Gardner is worth reading is reflected in my personal library.

By Martin Gardner,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Origami, Eleusis, and the Soma Cube as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Martin Gardner continues to delight. He introduces readers to the Generalized Ham Sandwich Theorem, origami, digital roots, magic squares, the mathematics of cooling coffee, the induction game of Eleusis, Dudeney puzzles, the maze at Hampton Court Palace, and many more mathematical puzzles and principles. Origami, Eleusis, and the Soma Cube is the second volume in Martin Gardner's New Mathematical Library, based on his enormously popular Scientific American columns. Now the author, in consultation with experts, has added updates to all the chapters, including new game variations, mathematical proofs, and other developments and discoveries, to challenge and fascinate a new generation…


Book cover of The Colossal Book of Mathematics: Classic Puzzles, Paradoxes, and Problems

David S. Richeson Author Of Tales of Impossibility: The 2000-Year Quest to Solve the Mathematical Problems of Antiquity

From my list on for mathematics enthusiasts.

Why am I passionate about this?

Although I loved studying mathematics in school, I have since learned that mathematics is so much more than school mathematics. My enthusiasm for all areas of mathematics has led me to conduct original mathematical research, to study the history of mathematics, to analyze puzzles and games, to create mathematical art, crafts, and activities, and to write about mathematics for general audiences. I am fortunate that my job—I am a professor of mathematics and the John J. & Ann Curley Faculty Chair in the Liberal Arts at Dickinson College—allows me the freedom to follow my passions, wherever they take me, and to share that passion with my students and with others. 

David's book list on for mathematics enthusiasts

David S. Richeson Why did David love this book?

They say that Plato was not a mathematician but was a maker of mathematicians. The same could be said of Martin Gardner, a prolific author who wrote, among many other things, the “Mathematical Games” column for Scientific American for a quarter of a century. Although all his books are excellent, The Colossal Book of Mathematics is a great entry point to Gardner’s oeuvre. It consists of what Gardner viewed as his 50 best Scientific American columns along with addenda containing updated material on each topic. With topics like topology, geometry, recreational mathematics, the infinite, and probability, each article is an informative, playful, well-written gem. 

By Martin Gardner,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Whether discussing hexaflexagons or number theory, Klein bottles or the essence of "nothing," Martin Gardner has single-handedly created the field of "recreational mathematics." The Colossal Book of Mathematics collects together Gardner's most popular pieces from his legendary "Mathematical Games" column, which ran in Scientific American for twenty-five years. Gardner's array of absorbing puzzles and mind-twisting paradoxes opens mathematics up to the world at large, inspiring people to see past numbers and formulas and experience the application of mathematical principles to the mysterious world around them. With articles on topics ranging from simple algebra to the twisting surfaces of Mobius strips,…


Book cover of Mathematical Puzzles: A Connoisseur's Collection

Dennis E. Shasha Author Of The Puzzling Adventures of Dr. Ecco

From my list on to help you to think logically.

Why am I passionate about this?

I became a scientist because I enjoyed the puzzles in Scientific American. I loved the notion that through mere thought, one could solve a question that at first glance seemed impossible to solve. When I had to design methods to detect ephemeral failures in electronic circuits underlying a mainframe computer, I created a puzzle having occasional liars. When I thought about ways to understand global wars, I constructed a puzzle about bullies in a playground. Some of my puzzles have been very computational, some purely paper and pencil. Over the years, my puzzles have appeared in Scientific American, Dr. Dobb’s Journal, and the Communications of the ACM.

Dennis' book list on to help you to think logically

Dennis E. Shasha Why did Dennis love this book?

Peter Winkler is an outstanding theoretical computer scientist, which is another way of saying that he is a mathematician who loves combinatorics and logic. He brings the precision and clarity of a mathematician to both the presentation and the solutions of his puzzles. The book consists of great puzzles from the centuries. Professor Winkler has excellent taste.

By Peter Winkler,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Collected over several years by Peter Winkler, of Bell Labs, dozens of elegant, intriguing challenges are presented in Mathematical Puzzles. The answers are easy to explain, but without this book, devilishly hard to find. Creative reasoning is the key to these puzzles. No involved computation or higher mathematics is necessary, but your ability to construct a mathematical proof will be severly tested--even if you are a professional mathematician. For the truly adventurous, there is even a chapter on unsolved puzzles.


Book cover of Much Ado about Baseball

Laurie Morrison Author Of Coming Up Short

From my list on for athletes and non-athletes alike.

Why am I passionate about this?

I’ve always loved watching and playing sports, and now I love writing about them, too. As a former teacher, I’ve seen firsthand how sporty books appeal to sporty kids. But after publishing my novel Up for Air, which is about a star swimmer, I’ve been struck by how many readers tell me they connected deeply with the main character even though they don’t like sports at all. That made me think about what makes sports stories resonate, and now I look out for books that capitalize on all the most exciting and relatable things about sports while also offering compelling hooks to readers with all sorts of interests.

Laurie's book list on for athletes and non-athletes alike

Laurie Morrison Why did Laurie love this book?

How can baseball, math, salty snacks, and Shakespeare fit together in one book? I’m not entirely sure, but somehow, Rajani LaRocca has combined these seemingly disparate elements to create Much Ado About Baseball, a delightful retelling of Much Ado About Nothing. This magical summer adventure features two equally lovable main characters, Trish and Ben, math rivals turned baseball teammates who come together to solve a problem. I love that there’s a female pitcher on a team of mostly boys, and I love all the connections LaRocca makes between baseball and math. Whether kids are baseball fans, math whizzes, or neither of these things, they’re sure to enjoy this charming novel, which also features an extremely sweet dog.

By Rajani LaRocca,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Much Ado about Baseball as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 8, 9, 10, and 11.

What is this book about?

"Much Ado About Baseball is the best children's book I've read in the past 10 years!" -Brad Thor, New York Times bestselling author of the Scot Harvath series

"A moving tale of baseball, magic, and former rivals who come together to solve a problem." -Kirkus Reviews, STARRED REVIEW

In this companion novel to Midsummer's Mayhem, math and baseball combine with savory snacks to cause confusion and calamity in the town of Comity by Newbery-Honor winner Rajani LaRocca.

Twelve-year-old Trish can solve tough math problems and throw a mean fastball. But because of her mom's new job, she's now facing a…


Book cover of Things to Make and Do in the Fourth Dimension

David Acheson Author Of The Wonder Book of Geometry: A Mathematical Story

From my list on mathematics for the general reader.

Why am I passionate about this?

I am an applied mathematician at Oxford University, and author of the bestseller 1089 and All That, which has now been translated into 13 languages. In 1992 I discovered a strange mathematical theorem – loosely related to the Indian Rope Trick - which eventually featured on BBC television. My books and public lectures are now aimed at bringing mainstream mathematics to the general public in new and exciting ways.

David's book list on mathematics for the general reader

David Acheson Why did David love this book?

I have always liked the classical geometry of triangles and circles, but Matt Parker's book helped me go way beyond that and broaden my whole outlook. And the attractively hand-drawn diagrams and zany humour just added to the whole experience. After all, how many maths authors do you know who decide to build a computer out of 10,000 dominoes, just to calculate 6 + 4? 

By Matt Parker,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Things to Make and Do in the Fourth Dimension as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Stand-up mathematician and star of Festival of the Spoken Nerd, Matt Parker presents Things to Make and Do in the Fourth Dimension -- a riotous journey through the possibilities of numbers, with audience participation

- Cut pizzas in new and fairer ways!
- Fit a 2p coin through an impossibly small hole!
- Make a perfect regular pentagon by knotting a piece of paper!
- Tie your shoes faster than ever before, saving literally seconds of your life!
- Use those extra seconds to contemplate the diminishing returns of an exclamation-point at the end of every bullet-point!
- Make a…


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 Mathematical Puzzles

Pramod Ganapathi Author Of Mathematical and Algorithmic Puzzles

From my list on mathematical and algorithmic puzzles.

Why am I passionate about this?

I am a Research Assistant Professor of Computer Science at Stony Brook University learning/teaching/researching mathematics/algorithms/puzzles. In these fields, I have published a book, published 15+ papers in conferences/journals, been granted a US patent, won two Outstanding Paper Awards, taught 10+ courses in 25+ offerings, and have supervised 90+ master's/bachelor students. I am a puzzle addict involved in this field for 25 years and puzzles are my religion/God. Puzzles are the main form of supreme energy in this universe that can consistently give me infinite peace.

Pramod's book list on mathematical and algorithmic puzzles

Pramod Ganapathi Why did Pramod love this book?

Peter Winkler is famous for his collections of counterintuitive puzzles. Thousands of people, including me, have spent many sleepless nights trying to understand the mysteries in these puzzles, for which, I am forever grateful.

Haunting puzzles in the book include hats and infinity, all right or all wrong, comparing numbers version 1/2, wild guess, laser gun, precarious picture, names in boxes, sleeping beauty, and dot-town exodus.

Most puzzle books exclude counterintuitive puzzles for unknown reasons. So, many people incorrectly assume that counterintuitive puzzles are majorly found in paradoxes. Peter Winkler in this book shows that counterintuition can come from either puzzles or solutions or both, and they need not come from paradoxes alone.

Finally, reading Winkler's statements is an absolute delight due to its enjoyable and entertaining nature.

By Peter Winkler,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Research in mathematics is much more than solving puzzles, but most people will agree that solving puzzles is not just fun: it helps focus the mind and increases one's armory of techniques for doing mathematics. Mathematical Puzzles makes this connection explicit by isolating important mathematical methods, then using them to solve puzzles and prove a theorem.

Features

A collection of the world's best mathematical puzzles

Each chapter features a technique for solving mathematical puzzles, examples, and finally a genuine theorem of mathematics that features that technique in its proof

Puzzles that are entertaining, mystifying, paradoxical, and satisfying; they are not…


Book cover of Anno's Math Games III

Ben Orlin Author Of Math Games with Bad Drawings: 75 1/4 Simple, Challenging, Go-Anywhere Games--And Why They Matter

From my list on math books with genuinely good drawings.

Why am I passionate about this?

Explaining math demands great visuals. I should know: I explain math for a living, and I cannot draw. Like, at all. The LA Times art director once compared my cartoons to the work of children and institutionalized patients. (He printed them anyway.) In the nerdier corners of the internet, I’m known as the “Math with Bad Drawings” guy, and as a purveyor of artless art, I’ve developed an eye for the good stuff: striking visuals that bring mathematical concepts to life. Here are five books that blow my stick figures out of the water. (But please buy my book anyway, if for no deeper reason than pity.)

Ben's book list on math books with genuinely good drawings

Ben Orlin Why did Ben love this book?

I stumbled on this in a used bookstore. What a find! The old-school, kid-friendly illustrations lead swiftly from simple beginnings (“What happens when you stretch a painting?”) to the depths of undergraduate topology. I haven’t used this in the classroom yet, but honestly, I could imagine busting it out with anyone from first-graders to first-year PhD candidates.

By Mitsumasa Anno,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Anno's Math Games III as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Picture puzzles, games, and simple activities introduce the mathematical concepts of abstract thinking, circuitry, geometry, and topology


Book cover of Algorithmic Puzzles

Pramod Ganapathi Author Of Mathematical and Algorithmic Puzzles

From my list on mathematical and algorithmic puzzles.

Why am I passionate about this?

I am a Research Assistant Professor of Computer Science at Stony Brook University learning/teaching/researching mathematics/algorithms/puzzles. In these fields, I have published a book, published 15+ papers in conferences/journals, been granted a US patent, won two Outstanding Paper Awards, taught 10+ courses in 25+ offerings, and have supervised 90+ master's/bachelor students. I am a puzzle addict involved in this field for 25 years and puzzles are my religion/God. Puzzles are the main form of supreme energy in this universe that can consistently give me infinite peace.

Pramod's book list on mathematical and algorithmic puzzles

Pramod Ganapathi Why did Pramod love this book?

Anany Levitin introduced me to algorithmics – my second love (my first love is mathematics), through his legendary algorithmics textbook. He was one of my superheroes in my young adult life and he got me addicted to algorithms. His book is my favorite because it is beautifully organized based on design techniques, well-written, and uses nice puzzles to teach algorithms.

Levitin went much deeper and wrote this book on algorithmic puzzles. This book is the first mainstream book in the puzzle literature that taught beautiful algorithmic puzzles via various algorithm technique techniques. Levitin claimed several mathematical puzzles as algorithmic focusing on aspects of the solutions that are automatable.

Elegant puzzles (with extensive references) in this book that I have enjoyed include missionaries and cannibals, bridge crossing, circle of lights, MU puzzle, turning on a light bulb, chameleons, poisoned wine, game of life, twelve coins, fifteen puzzle, hats with numbers, and…

By Anany Levitin, Maria Levitin,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Algorithmic puzzles are puzzles involving well-defined procedures for solving problems. This book will provide an enjoyable and accessible introduction to algorithmic puzzles that will develop the reader's algorithmic thinking.

The first part of this book is a tutorial on algorithm design strategies and analysis techniques. Algorithm design strategies - exhaustive search, backtracking, divide-and-conquer and a few others - are general approaches to designing step-by-step instructions for solving problems. Analysis techniques are methods for investigating such procedures to answer questions about the ultimate result of the procedure or how many steps are executed before the procedure stops. The discussion is an…


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…