Popular Maths Books To Get Your Teeth Into  

‘Popular Maths’ is a strange description for a section of books.  It certainly suggests that there might be another set of books which contain unpopular maths.  What would you place in the unpopular maths section – would it be textbooks which contain printing errors, or books which require you to do long division in your head?  Undoubtedly your pupils will have some thoughts on which maths books they would place in the unpopular section! 

In fact, ‘Popular Maths’ describes books which explain maths topics in a way that the general public can understand.  They often tackle exciting stories in the history of mathematics or cover great discoveries or important practical applications.  Many of them take dense and totally incomprehensible mathematics (e.g. the proof of Fermat’s Last Theorem) and turn it into a great story.  Why should you be interested in this type of book as a maths teacher?  

1.  Because you love maths – many Popular Maths books are totally fascinating – you will enjoy them because you are passionate about maths and in turn they will help make you even more enthusiastic.  They will remind you about the whole universe of mathematics which exists beyond the GCSE curriculum.  

2.  It will help you introduce your pupils to a wider range of mathematical ideas.  Many English teachers will write on their wall ‘I am currently reading…’ and will list out the latest novel they are reading outside of school.  Maths teachers can do the same with a popular maths book.     

3. You can recommend the best reads to your Sixth Formers, or even younger pupils.   

4. As a maths teacher, family members will start to buy you Popular Maths books for Christmas.  So before long you will be the owner of a shelf of popular maths books (like it or not).   

There is one word of warning though – English teachers have some books they hate and some books they love – so it is ok for maths teachers to not enjoy all Popular Maths books – some you will find too dry/complicated or simplistic – your time is precious, so seek out topics you are interested in!  

Stuck for ideas on what to read?  Here are some suggestions – but with the caveat that this list is just a few brief ideas and in no way are we endorsing this as the be all and end all list.  Why not share what you are currently reading with your fellow trainees? 

Classic 

A mathematician’s Apology, By G H Hardy, Written 1940 

The famous mathematician G. H. Hardy writes about his life as a mathematician – this has become a classic and as a slimline book it will certainly suit the busy maths teacher.  

Modern Classic 

Fermat’s Last Theorem, By Simon Singh 

When Andrew Wiles solved Fermat’s Last Theorem in the 1990s it was probably the most exciting mathematical discovery of recent times. Simon Singh’s book brings this remarkable tale to life.  

Made into a film 

Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly 

This book tells the story of the African-American women mathematicians who worked for NASA in the 1960s – an inspiring tale on many levels, and also made into a great film. 

Ian Stewart 

Seventeen Equations that Changed the World, By Ian Stewart 

Ian Stewart is one of the most prolific and well known modern maths writers, and has written many books which you can choose from.  This particular book unlocks the impact of equations and will certainly give you a lot to talk about with your pupils – particularly when they say ‘what is the point of maths?!’. 

Other Authors

Other Authors to look at include Hannah Fry, Marcus Du Sautoy, Matt Parker, Alex Bellos, Rob Eastaway, David Acheson and many many more… happy reading!