Prime Pi Day reads

The best books for the most irrational date—Pi Day

Pi Day—March 14, or 3.14—is a beloved date here at the Press. Besides offering the opportunity to share our cheesiest jokes with loved ones, Pi Day is also the perfect excuse to highlight some of our nerdiest reads. We’ve gathered a collection of several of our best titles on mathematics—including books on proofs, math games, and natural sequences—to fulfill all your Pi Day needs.

Read on to explore these books and more, and sign up for our newsletter to hear further updates from the Press.

The Math You Need by Thomas Mack

In The Math You Need, Thomas Mack provides a singular, comprehensive survey of undergraduate mathematics, compressing four years of math curricula into one volume. Without sacrificing rigor, this book provides a go-to resource for the essentials that any academic or professional needs. Each chapter is followed by numerous exercises to provide the reader an opportunity to practice what they learned. The Math You Need is distinguished in its use of the Bourbaki style—the gold standard for concision and an approach that mathematicians will find of particular interest. As ambitious as it is compact, this text embraces mathematical abstraction throughout, avoiding ad hoc computations in favor of general results.

“[A] degree-in-a-book…. As both a reference and a resource, it’s indispensable for every student and teacher of advanced mathematics.” —Oscar E. Fernandez, Wellesley College; author of Calculus Simplified, The Calculus of Happiness, and Everyday Calculus

The Meaning of Proofs: Mathematics as Storytelling by Gabriele Lolli

In The Meaning of Proofs, mathematician Gabriele Lolli argues that to write a mathematical proof is tantamount to inventing a story. Lolli offers not instructions for how to write mathematical proofs, but a philosophical and poetic reflection on mathematical proofs as narrative. Mathematics, imprisoned within its symbols and images, Lolli writes, says nothing if its meaning is not narrated in a story. The minute mathematicians open their mouths to explain something—the meaning of x, how to find y—they are framing a narrative.

“Mathematical proofs are much more like stories or poems than you may realize. Here Lolli explains how, with a fascinating wealth of detail.” —John Baez, U. C. Riverside

The Raven’s Hat: Fallen Pictures, Rising Sequences, and Other Mathematical Games by Jonas Peters and Nicolai Meinshausen

This book presents a series of engaging games that seem unsolvable—but can be solved when they are translated into mathematical terms. How can players find their ID cards when the cards are distributed randomly among twenty boxes? By applying the theory of permutations. How can a player guess the color of her own hat when she can only see other players’ hats? Hamming codes, which are used in communication technologies. Like magic, mathematics solves the apparently unsolvable. The games allow readers, including university students or anyone with high school–level math, to experience the joy of mathematical discovery.

“Full of clever and carefully constructed puzzles that will entertain any mathematically curious reader, from novice to expert.” —Richard J. Samworth, University of Cambridge

Proof and the Art of Mathematics by Joel David Hamkins

This book offers an introduction to the art and craft of proof writing. The author, a leading research mathematician, presents a series of engaging and compelling mathematical statements with interesting elementary proofs. These proofs capture a wide range of topics, including number theory, combinatorics, graph theory, the theory of games, geometry, infinity, order theory, and real analysis. The goal is to show students and aspiring mathematicians how to write proofs with elegance and precision.

“The book is a pleasure, and it will be an excellent teacher for the art of proofs.” —Günter M. Ziegler, Freie Universität Berlin; coauthor of Proofs from THE BOOK

Foolproof, and Other Mathematical Meditations by Brian Hayes

Brian Hayes wants to convince us that mathematics is too important and too much fun to be left to the mathematicians. Foolproof, and Other Mathematical Meditations is his entertaining and accessible exploration of mathematical terrain both far-flung and nearby, bringing readers tidings of mathematical topics from Markov chains to Sudoku. Hayes, a non-mathematician, argues that mathematics is not only an essential tool for understanding the world but also a world unto itself, filled with objects and patterns that transcend earthly reality. In a series of essays, Hayes sets off to explore this exotic terrain, and takes the reader with him.

“With a journalist’s instinct for story, a mathematician’s concern for accuracy, and a storyteller’s sense of narrative, Brian Hayes lets the general reader in on a secret mathematicians already know: math is fun!” —James Propp, University of Massachusetts Lowell

The Beauty of Numbers in Nature: Mathematical Patterns and Principles from the Natural World by Ian Stewart

From a zebra’s stripes to a spider’s web, from sand dunes to snowflakes, nature is full of patterns underlaid by mathematical principles. In The Beauty of Numbers in Nature, Ian Stewart shows how life forms from the principles of mathematics. Each chapter in The Beauty of Numbers in Nature explores a different kind of patterning system and its mathematical underpinnings. In doing so, the book also uncovers some universal patterns—both in nature and made by humans—from the basic geometry of ancient Greece to the complexities of fractals.

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