I got an email this afternoon from a reader who is interested in learning mathematics — as an adult, post-college. The reader has an advanced degree in a humanities discipline and never studied mathematics, but recently he’s become interested in learning and is looking for a place to start.
I recommended The Mathematical Experience by Davis and Hirsch, How to Solve It by Polya, and any good college-level textbook in geometry (like Greenberg, or for a humanities person perhaps Henderson). I felt like these three books give an ample and accessible start at — respectively — the big picture and history of the discipline, the methodology of mathematicians, and a first step into actual mathematical content.
But what I thought this was an interesting question, and I wonder if the other readers out there would have similar suggestions for books, articles, movies or documentaries… anything that would be of use to an educated adult learner with little math background but a lot of genuine interest. Leave your suggestions in the comments.
I got a nice surprise in the mail this morning — a review copy of the fourth edition of Marvin Greenberg’s classic text Euclidean and Non-Euclidean Geometries. It seems like this book has been in the third edition since time immemorial. I used the third edition in my first year of teaching after graduate school, 10 years ago, and loved the depth and clarity of the writing. That much seems not to have changed. There are some significant rearrangements and updates to the material, and overall the book just looks a lot nicer (And the color scheme matches my blog, to boot!) There don’t seem to be a lot of good intro-level geometry texts out there — and there are a lot of bad ones — so a new Greenberg is a nice early Christmas present. It’s the kind of book that makes you want to sit down and work through it just so you can learn geometry from back to front.
Freeman textbooks are on a roll these days, what with this new edition of Greenberg and with Rogawski’s excellent new calculus text. (Disclosure: I was a reviewer for Rogawski.) I don’t advocate for textbook use often, but if you have to use one, use a good one!