Cover image for What to read to fall in love with math 💚

What to read to fall in love with math 💚

lightalloy profile image Anna Buianova ・3 min read

This year I've read several books about mathematics, and I'd like to share my experience with you.

A Mind for Numbers, Barbara Oakley

I assumed this book is about mathematics because its title was translated to Russian as "Think like a mathematician" ("Думай, как математик") But it turned out that it is more about studying subjects and gaining skills effectively.

Many people believe that you need a special kind of brain to be technical, but it's a myth and Barbara educates us to get rid of it.
This idea works the other way too: if you believe that you have a "technical" brain, you still can gain softer skills. And for a successful career, we need both.
The practice is more important than "natural" inclinations. In the beginning, learning a new skill is hard, but when you get better at something, you'll likely to enjoy it more.

Barbara tells the story of her career and it's really inspiring, even though I have a totally different path.

From this book, you'll learn more about how our brain works and how to apply this knowledge.

Barbara has several other books and MOOCs on the topic. Here are the courses:

"Mindshift" is a more career-oriented one, I read it last year and it was great. The book contains a lot of similar ideas to the course, but still, it was fun and useful to read.

The Joy of X, Steven Strogatz

Math is often taught in a boring way, and it demotivates students. Steven Strogatz is sure that it can be taught differently so that people will love math and won't be bored... and they definitely won't come up with the conclusion that they need a special talent to be good at math.

The idea is similar to what I've read in ”Mind for numbers”, but while that book is more about the learning process, ”The Joy of X” is about the math itself.

While reading, you'll recall the topics from basic arithmetic to differential equations and operations on infinite sets. Besides theory, the book has a lot of stories from the past and challenges to think on.

The book is more suitable for recalling math and recreational reading than for serious studying. But, it has a lot of links to other books and resources for further learning.

I have discovered this youtube channel about recreational math from the book. I especially enjoyed the story about Living on a Mobius strip

How to Bake Pi, Eugenia Cheng

In recent years I became interested in more abstract parts of math, like category theory. I had studied some of its concepts at university as a part of our "Mathematical logic" course, but while I was good at most of the math topics, abstract parts of it seemed terrifying and vague. We had no idea how these concepts could be used, so it was hard to study them.

But as functional programming became more and more popular, I gained interest in the topic. "How to bake pi" seemed like a nice introduction to it, so I bought a copy, and wasn't disappointed.

Eugenia uses recipes as a metaphor to explain math concepts. But there is not too much cooking info in the book, for me, recipes seem more like an introduction to the chapters. The book is full of entertaining stories and close to life examples, which makes understanding abstract concepts much easier.

I also appreciate that the author explains why we need math in the first place, and what the category theory is.

After reading this book, I became more curious about the topic. If you've read "Category theory for programmers", please share your impressions.

I'm also interested in what tech books are you currently reading, feel free to share!

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lightalloy profile

Anna Buianova


[on maternity leave] software developer (web, ruby)


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It's not a book, but have you see the videos of 3Blue1Brown? The first video I watched was the one about analytic continuation. The beauty and clarity of the exposition blew my mind.


The channel is BRILLIANT imho. Super accessible explanation!


I'm usually bad at watching videos :) But I'll check it out anyway, thanks!


I've got a couple to add to this awesome list :)

  • Fermat's Last Theorem (this reads more like a novel tbh)
  • The Simpsons and Their Mathematical Secrets
  • Gödel, Escher, Bach: an Eternal Golden Braid
  • Mind and Matter: A Life in Math and Football

I have friends who failed to understand GEB. this make mestep far from the book


I really like Logicomix, it's a graphic novel that's mainly about Bertrand Russell's life and his quest to put maths on a solid grounding. It's pretty funny and the illustrations are really nice, I really love this book 😂

In terms of books that are more technical some good ones are "What Is Mathematics?", this is a general introduction to maths endorsed by Einstein and "How To Prove It" which is an intro to the techniques for proving things. It also has a really good chapter on logic that's pretty relevant to programming


For you, being a developer who is interested in maths, I would also advise to read "The Art of Computer Programming" by Donald Knuth:
"A fundamental monograph of the famous American mathematician and computer scientist Donald Knuth, devoted to the consideration and analysis of the most important algorithms used in computer science. In 1999, the book was recognized as one of the twelve best physical and mathematical monographs of the century."

I was always upset from the way the mathematics was taught to me, but this book excited me from the very first pages.

It consists from 4 big books.
One of my professors said: "If you will succeed to read all 4 books, you can go working to Microsoft right now."
Well, I succeeded only with the first book. :D


I doubt that I can handle Knuth :D Finishing the first book is already a great achievement 💪


As a High schooler, I fell in love with "One Two Three Infinity" by George Gamov. Available as a PDF here

I also love all the books by Marcus du Sautoy that shared wonders of math, with titles like The Music of the Primes

You can find some of my other recommendations here



Burn math class is the one I read, it was hilarious and inspiring and I recommend it to anyone :)


Cat theory for programmers is not a `funny' book, but it's certainly a beginner friendly. I'm in chapter 5 or 6 on it and it's good. There are a good version on github which is just a little fancy


Barbara Oakley is one of my big heroes! Learning how to Learn is one of my favorite pieces of information online


Another interesting book for reading the history (and usages) of math could be "Is God a Mathematician?"


A physical copy worths it!


I've read a couple of paragraphs and it seems really interesting, thanks!