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Ask HN: Recommend a maths book for a teenager?
297 points by andyjohnson0 86 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 187 comments
I'm looking for recommendations for a maths book for a bright, self-motivated child in their late teens who is into maths (mainly analysis) at upper high-school / early undergrad level.

It would be a birthday gift, so ideally something that is more than a plain textbook, but which also has depth, and maybe broadens their view of maths beyond analysis. I'm thinking something along the lines of The Princeton Companion to Mathematics, Spivak's Calculus, or Moor & Mertens The Nature of Computation.

What would you have appreciated having been given at that age?

Concrete Mathematics by Knuth and Patashnik (already mentioned for u/pmiller2) if the kid likes numbers. That's perhaps the guiding thread of the book -- it's about the beautiful (yet usually very elementary and natural) things you can do with numbers.

Geometry Revisited by Coxeter and Greitzer and/or Episodes in Nineteenth and Twentieth Century Euclidean Geometry by Honsberger if the kid is into plane geometry. It's an idyllic subject, great for independent exploration, and the books shouldn't take long to read. Not very deep, though (at least Honsberger).

Anything by Tom Körner, just because of the writing. Seriously, he can make the axiomatic construction of the real number system read like a novel; open https://web.archive.org/web/20190813160507/https://www.dpmms... on any page and you will see.

Proofs from the BOOK by Aigner and Ziegler is a cross-section of some of the nicest proofs in reasonably elementary (read: undergrad-comprehensible) maths. Might be a bit too advanced, though (the writing is terse and a lot of ground is covered).

Problems from the BOOK by Andreescu and Dospinescu (a play on the previous title, which itself is a play on an Erdös quote) is an olympiad problem book; it might be one of the best in its genre.

Oystein Ore has some nice introductory books on number theory (Number Theory and its History) and on graphs (Graphs and their uses); they should be cheap now due to their age, but haven't gotten any less readable.

Kvant Selecta by Serge Tabachnikov is a 3(?)-volume series of articles from the Kvant journal translated into English. These are short expositions of elementary mathematical topics written for talented (and experienced) high-schoolers.

I wouldn't do Princeton Companion; it's a panorama shot from high orbit, not a book you can really read and learn from.

If the kid likes plane geometry and is interested in further math, I’d highly recommend Yaglom’s books Geometric Transformations. They are a series of (hard) problem-focused books which teach the ideas of transformation geometry in service of solving various construction problems.

In general transformation geometry is drastically underemphasized in American (and possibly other countries’) secondary and early undergraduate math education.

Another great book that's worth a read is "Things to make and do in the 4th dimension" by Matt Parker.

It is a really interesting book as it covers multiple topics from mathematics and being that you are a young reader you might benefit from that exposure to topic.

From there on you can fine the topics that interest and dive deeper and learn the nitty gritty!

Thats how I personally found my passion in topology.

Some of the books that you mention seem a bit too hard for a teen, so you have to be careful not to demotivate them by expecting too much of them; instead i suggest a simpler approach before tackling the big ones;

* Functions and Graphs by Gelfand et al. - A small but great book to develop intuition.

* Who is Fourier? A Mathematical Adventure - A great "manga type" book to build important concepts from first principles

* Concepts of Modern Mathematics by Ian Stewart - A nice overview in simple language.

* Mathematics: Its Content, Methods and Meaning by Kolmogorov et al. - A broad but concise presentation of a lot of mathematics.

* Methods of Mathematics Applied to Calculus, Probability, and Statistics by Richard Hamming - A very good applied maths book. All of Hamming's books are recommended.

There are of course plenty more but the above should be good for understanding.

Just wanted to chime in regarding Concepts of modern mathematics.

Really enjoyed reading it when I was in college. It's not a textbook, just a prose book for enjoyable reading, but it's inspirational and a very interesting overview of the field of mathematics.

Another vote for Ian Stewart's book, or any other of his books. I discovered them at the end of high school and devoured them during the summer before college. Did I just admit I was a nerd? Tough. I'm proud of it.

I'm going to go a completely different direction from other recommendations and say Concrete Mathematics by Knuth and Patashnik. They will definitely be able to use skills from analysis and calculus here, but there are so many additional tools in this book that it's very much a worthwhile digression. The marginal notes are great, as well!

I own this book, and it's a favorite of mine.


Great pick. Note: you can get it for $20 less AND support a local used book store if you buy it from alibris. https://www.alibris.com/Concrete-Mathematics-A-Foundation-fo...

When I saw the title, this was the first book that came to my mind. Very nicely written, possibly the best math book I've read (as a Computer Science MSc)


It is a book produced by a remarkable cultural circumstance in the former Soviet Union which fostered the creation of groups of students, teachers, and mathematicians called "Mathematical Circles". The work is predicated on the idea that studying mathematics can generate the same enthusiasm as playing a team sport-without necessarily being competitive. This book is intended for both students and teachers who love mathematics and want to study its various branches beyond the limits of the school curriculum. It is also a book of mathematical recreations and, at the same time, a book containing vast theoretical and problem material in main areas of what authors consider to be "extracurricular mathematics".

This would be better for a 10–14 year old in middle school or early high school.

Hmmm. There's no way my 10 year old daughter would read beyond the first page of that thing. For 15-16 it's great.

This is more about level of preparation / past experience than age per se. The OP describes a “bright, self-motivated child in their late teens who is into maths” and is a few years ahead of their peers. The mentioned book might seem a bit easy or elementary for this particular kid. The two Berkeley Math Circle books might be better. https://mathcircle.berkeley.edu/books

You are right that a book aimed at well prepared Russian 12-year-olds in an extracurricular math circle might be fine for 16-year-old average American students.

Jan Gullberg - Mathematics: From the Birth of Numbers


Amazon.com Review What does mathematics mean? Is it numbers or arithmetic, proofs or equations? Jan Gullberg starts his massive historical overview with some insight into why human beings find it necessary to "reckon," or count, and what math means to us. From there to the last chapter, on differential equations, is a very long, but surprisingly engrossing journey. Mathematics covers how symbolic logic fits into cultures around the world, and gives fascinating biographical tidbits on mathematicians from Archimedes to Wiles. It's a big book, copiously illustrated with goofy little line drawings and cartoon reprints. But the real appeal (at least for math buffs) lies in the scads of problems--with solutions--illustrating the concepts. It really invites readers to sit down with a cup of tea, pencil and paper, and (ahem) a calculator and start solving. Remember the first time you "got it" in math class? With Mathematics you can recapture that bliss, and maybe learn something new, too. Everyone from schoolkids to professors (and maybe even die-hard mathphobes) can find something useful, informative, or entertaining here. --Therese Littleton

I remember reading this book in 11th grade and I absolutely loved it. It made me appreciate math much more and showed me the beauty of mathematics. It helped me overcome my math anxiety.

Ordered, thank you for the recommendation!

If I could give my high school self only one math book, it would have to be Seven Sketches in Compositionality by Fong and Spivak. Did every exercise over winter break in college and realized along the way that I had been hustling through math courses and olympiad problems without appreciating any beauty in the structure of mathematics. It completely changed my life and, at least in my eyes, dissolved the assumption that “applied” math must be less rigorous or “pure” math must be less practical. Not only did it immediately recast my basic intuition about what math “is” (and what numbers “are” or what processes “do”) but with a bit more effort toward studying category theory, I came to see my previous encounters with more advanced topics like forcing in set theory or the Legendre-Fenchel transform used in physics/economics in a completely new light. What is truly wild to me is that Seven Sketches has no real prerequisites, and I could have just as easily read it when I was 14. This book should be the basis of a mandatory course for a math-loving high schooler. Instead of rushing to learn linear algebra and real analysis in high school, I wish I had gained the wonderful perspective of Fong and Spivak—I would have fallen truly in love with math much sooner, found a deeper perspective in my courses much faster, and enjoyed all of it so much more along the way.

Hope someone sees this and shares the book with a high schooler—it’s also available for free online!

My father (and me) would always recommend Zeldovich's "Higher mathematics for beginners" for learning analysis at the upper high-school level. This particular book does not seem to be available in translation, instead there is a reworked version with Yaglom (who was a brilliant science educator himself):


Zeldovich's book with Myshkis on applied mathematics is also excellent: https://archive.org/details/ZeldovichMyskisElementsOfApplied...

Subjectively, I prefer typesetting of the latter, but that is because it is closer to the original Russian edition. Zeldovich was a physicist, so these take an engineer's/physicist's approach, which is, in my opinion, the right entry point to analysis. The reader effectively has to follow the historic development of the subject, starting with some intuitive observations, and eventually developing quite delicate insights.

I read HMFB when I was about 17, and it was great. I remember making up questions of the sort "What level of soda in a can makes it the most stable", and the like, inspired by the book.

During the first year of my undergrad someone introduced me to Gödel, Escher, Bach. I thought it was mind blowing at the time and still find it to be an incredible introduction to formal systems, thinking mathematically and understanding the concept of proofs.

All these concepts are central to higher level mathematics, and are not covered in high school (at least not the Danish one).

I'm was very thankful for that introduction, hopefully they would be as well :)

I have to disagree with you here, and strongly. I don't think Gödel, Escher, Bach is a good book. Hofstaeder is clearly very smart, curious, and open-minded, and I love all those things, but the book itself is just so pretentious and sort of pointless. It's precisely the wrong kind of book you want to give a bright teenager, because it will only encourage them to get a head-start inserting their head up their own arsehole, metaphorically speaking.

> I don't think Gödel, Escher, Bach is a good book. Hofstaeder is clearly very smart, curious, and open-minded, and I love all those things, but the book itself is just so pretentious and sort of pointless.

I'm curious: Do you feel this way because it isn't a math textbook?

Not at all. My own recommendation, God created the Integers, isn't a math textbook. I doubt Hofstadter himself would claim GEB had a point - it was more of an intellectual fugue put to paper. If GEB was a novel it would be more along the lines of Finnegan's Wake than Les Misérables, and I would never ever give the former to a teenager.

I read it when I was 16 and it was just wonderful. I can also recommend it.

Here's an interesting review:


It's a negative review, and I agree with all its points. In addition, I don't like Hofstadter's proof of Gödel's theorem - it's so LONG that it's hard to keep track of the parts. (The best proof of Gödel's theorem I've come across was given verbally by John Conway, and he had the opposite strategy - make the proof as brief as possible so that you can easily see an overview of it.)

But despite these criticisms, I think it's a wonderful book, and I agree with the idea of giving it to a teenager as an introduction to mathematics.

I first read it when I was 14 and went on to do a lot of mathematics and philosophy of mathematics.

Do you have a link to Conways proof?

I suggest "What Is Mathematics?" by Richard Courant and Herbert Robbins.


My high school math professor recommended this to me 40 years ago.

I got it, then put it on a shelf for 20 years. When I picked it back up, it somehow had become delightful! Perfect subway reading.

Review: http://www.ams.org/notices/200111/rev-blank.pdf

Art of Problem Solving is popular with the Math Olympiad types. I see that others on this thread have recommended it already.


I second this. Do t be scared off by it being for math Olympiads. A lot the first volume deals with concepts across much of the field. Lots of practice and ideas for logs, exponents, word problems. And it comes with a solution guide which helped me a lot.

The Cauchy–Schwarz Master Class: An Introduction to the Art of Mathematical Inequalities is a graded problem book that will teach them the principles and practice of mathematical proofs like no other book. Here is its MAA review: [0]. A pirate PDF is a Google search away. Take a look and see if you like it.

[0] https://www.maa.org/press/maa-reviews/the-cauchy-schwarz-mas...

Visual Complex Analysis. Partly because it's a brilliant book and partly because Complex Analysis is often really really badly taught.

If you haven't read it, it teaches complex analysis in terms of transformations and pictures rather than solely algebra. It's very clever; Also touches on some concepts in physics and vector calculus.

If you like the style 3Blue1Brown uses, he cites VCA as an inspiration for that style.

If you like pictures, another couple nice books are Nathan Carter’s Visual Group Theory and Marty Weissman’s Illustrated Theory of Numbers, both of which should be accessible to motivated high school students.



I recently gifted Illustrated Theory of Numbers to a friend, and it is indeed beautifully illustrated.

I would also recommend "Prime Numbers and the Riemann Hypothesis" for its illustrations and exposition [1].

[1] https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1107499437

A more traditional complex analysis textbook that's really good is Stewart and Tall's Complex Analysis. It's not necessarily a great complement to VCA; I used them both in my course and didn't find myself referring to VCA much, but then I had good lectures in my course and really got on with Stewart and Tall.

The "standard" book was Churchill and Brown and, uh, I'd say that one is best avoided. It's awful enough that it may be responsible for a number of those courses being so badly taught....

As a child, I greatly enjoyed "Algebra the Easy Way", "Trigonometry the Easy Way", and "Calculus the Easy Way". They present each of the subjects not as already-invented concepts that you just have to learn, but as things being invented by a fictional kingdom as they need them. I greatly prefer that style over rote memorization; I can remember it better when I know how to recreate it. Even more importantly, it encourages the mindset that all of these things were invented, and that other things can be, too.

(Note: the other books in the "Easy Way" series do not follow the same style, and are just ordinary textbooks.)

Also, in a completely different direction, I haven't seen anyone mention Feynman yet, and that will definitely encourage a broader view of mathematics and science.

Or, to go another angle, you might consider things like "Thinking, Fast and Slow".

God Created the Integers: The Mathematical Breakthroughs That Changed History. Stephen Hawking. I bought mine for cheap on alibris (https://www.alibris.com/God-Created-the-Integers-The-Mathema...)

From the blurb:

"...includes landmark discoveries spanning 2500 years and representing the work of mathematicians such as Euclid, Georg Cantor, Kurt Godel, Augustin Cauchy, Bernard Riemann and Alan Turing. Each chapter begins with a biography of the featured mathematician, clearly explaining the significance of the result, followed by the full proof of the work, reproduced from the original publication, many in new translations."

What's great about this book for a teenager is that they get to read original sources for the stuff they've already learned! And indeed, as they learn more they can keep coming back for more original sources. Personally, reading Descartes original words in Geometry was awe-inspiring, not because every word was so perfect, but because he comes across as just so damn human, the ideas he presents are subtle and profound, and yet presented with an interesting combination of humility and pride that is instantly recognizable. I truly wish I'd had something like that book before embarking on my own journey through math - we stand on the shoulders of giants, but we so rarely look down to see their faces.

First read https://artofproblemsolving.com/news/articles/avoid-the-calc...

By one of my early mathematics tutors in San Diego math circle

Then buy something like: Mathematical Proofs: A Transition to Advanced Mathematics (3rd Edition) (Featured Titles for Transition to Advanced Mathematics) https://www.amazon.com/dp/0321797094/ref=cm_sw_r_cp_api_i_K4...

Also art of problem solving vols 1-2 are now classics for that age.

I worked through a lot of this partial differential equations book during downtime while working in a gas station after my freshman year of college:


Might be a little advanced for most teenagers (I was 19 that summer), but I love the book and still refer to it from time to time. I did have experience with ordinary differential equations at the time, but I haven't found an ODE book that's quite the same.

Spivak is an excellent choice but may be too advanced depending on his level. I would also strongly recommend any of the books in the Art of Problem Solving series:


I've got a PhD in bioengineering but I'm currently going through Introduction to Counting and Probability and I'm really enjoying it.

Some others (not AOPS series):

Nelsen - Proofs Without Words

Polya - How to Solve it

Strogatz - Nonlinear Dynamics and Chaos

I'm surprised nobody has yet mentioned An Infinitely Large Napkin by Evan Chen [1]. It's a fantastic, very dense primer and overview of a large variety of university-level topics in mathematics. It was originally targeted at high school students with an interest in higher mathematics, and while the later chapters have strayed somewhat from that goal, one of the best things about Napkin is that it does its best to justify why we introduce certain ideas and abstractions. Generally, it tries to give a high-level overview without sacrificing technical rigor. I highly recommend it.

Plus, it's a free PDF on the internet! Doesn't get better than that.

[1] https://web.evanchen.cc/napkin.html

Thanks for alerting me to Evan Chen, what a wonderful person and skilled mathematical educator!

For a deep, but deeply entertaining introduction to extraordinarily high-level concepts that remain useful tools of thought forever - Godel, Escher, Bach. That belongs on everyone's bookshelf.

For a kind of "cabinet of curiosities", I endorse "Wonders of Numbers" by Clifford Pickover. This book was pivotal in my relationship with mathematics, containing as it does brief excursions into all manner of fascinating topics like cellular automata, and the Collatz Conjecture, as well as a host of more obscure oddities. It's a perfect book to have around when learning programing as well, since it has a nearly bottomless well of interesting things to code. Nor is it dry, thanks to Pickover's whimsical style.

Abstract Algebra by Pinter and Introduction to Topology by Mendelson are two fantastic books, published by Dover, that are too elementary to be used as university textbooks on those subjects but as a result are great for a more casual reader. They are well motivated and rarely omit details. They would serve as a great introduction to undergraduate math.

Maths tutor here. At that age I was very inspired by Fermat's Last Theorem by Simon Singh. It's not a technical book but gave me my first idea of what mathematicians actually do and how the process works. This book motivated me to major in maths.

Anything by Ian Stewart would also be good, 'Letters to a Young Mathematician' springs to mind.

Given that you use the word 'maths' with an s I'm guessing you're not American. If you're British like me, I would recommend avoiding American books for high schoolers because they will assume quite different prerequisites.

I remember being blown away by this book as a teen: James Gleick - Chaos: Making a New Science https://www.amazon.com/Chaos-Making-Science-James-Gleick/dp/...

Yeah I read that as a 19 year old and spent hours? Days? Making graphics of fractals on my HP-28s (at Oxford studying maths but with no friends). Awesomely inspiring and technical enough to get going even without the internet.

I'd consider something by John Stillwell. For example, Numbers and Geometry, which investigates the connections between number theory and plane geometry -- two subjects which your child has probably seen, but not seen related.

Stillwell is a magnificent writer -- he loves to go on digressions, and to talk about the history of the subject. My impression is that his books are a bit rambling for traditional use as textbooks, but perfect for self-motivated reading for exactly the same reason. He makes the subject fun.

(Disclaimer: I haven't read this book in any sort of depth, but I have read another of Stillwell's books cover to cover.)

Concerning your other recommendations: The Princeton Companion to Mathematics is magnificent, but in practice it's something he'd be more likely proudly own and display on his bookshelf than to read; it's quite dense. Spivak's Calculus, from what I've heard, is magnificent. Probably best in the context of a freshman honors class, but I can imagine that someone disciplined could love it for self-study. Don't know Moor and Mertens.

I recommend John Stillwell’s The Four Pillars of Geometry https://www.springer.com/gp/book/9780387255309. This book is suitable for all who want to cultivate a interest in mathematics.

The Four Pillars of Geometry approaches geometry in four different ways, spending two chapters on each. This makes the subject accessible to readers of all mathematical tastes, from the visual to the algebraic. Not only does each approach offer a different view; the combination of viewpoints yields insights not available in most books at this level. For example, it is shown how algebra emerges from projective geometry, and how the hyperbolic plane emerges from the real projective line.

John Stillwell is a great mathematician and writer. You won’t regret reading this.

PS. John Stillwell’s Mathematics and Its History is also worth reading. In fact, the book doesn’t aim to tell the story of mathematics. The book connects and the parts of mathematics with a historical perspective.

I suggest Infinite Powers by Steven Strogatz. It doesn't matter if they already took a calculus course, I guarantee it's a much better way to make them appreciate the the subject than any textbook. And if they don't know calculus yet, that just makes it even better!

If I'd read this book as a teenager, maybe I would've passed Calc I on my first try as opposed to my third. With a C-.

In response to the question about the best book to learn [subject] from, the best answer I ever received was: "the third book".

The point being, of course, that it may take a few different expositions before something 'clicks'. I think this observation is particularly important for self study.

So, in answer to your question: maybe more than one book?

If they might enjoy something on computing, I'd recommend "The Pattern On The Stone: The Simple Ideas That Make Computers Work" by W.Daniel Hillis. It's very clear and well written, is quite short but covers a lot and can be enjoyed cover to cover more like a novel than a textbook.

Probably not anyone's first choice, completely unknown in the US and not truly a maths book, so much as a physics book.

Problems in general physics by IE Irodov [1] was one of those "bang your head on the wall, but when you get it it's ecstasy" kind of books for me.

I am not even sure if I would recommend it to every one. Maybe masochists. But, looking back on it, I have some really fond memories of locking myself in a room for 2 days to get a problem that I felt oh-so-close to solving. Eventually getting it is intensely rewarding.

It it right at the grade 10-12 level.


Surreal Numbers by Knuth is great, although not related to analyis/calculus:


Princeton companion regular and applied version 100% is the one book I wished I got in HS. Shows how big the world is which is very useful at that age.

That's education wise. Story wise I like "love and math" despite the corny title.

Puzzle/mystery wise "the Scottish book" would have seemed like alien speak to me in HS, aspirational but probably too tough.

Inside interesting integrals is cool if you want to go on a computation spree.

My fave academic book from HS was General Chemistry by Pauling.

IMO the best calculus/real analysis book is by Benedetto & Czaja. But HS age much better is Advanced Calculus by Fitzpatrick.

Introduction to statistical learning is very readable at that age.

CS wise I think Skienas algorithm design manual is the best.

Jordan Ellenberg's "How not to be wrong". Recommended even for non teenagers.

For something that's a little more fun to read and covers fundamental topics. (Foundations for higher mathematics) I'd recommend Gödel, Escher, Bach by Douglas Hofsteader. It changed the way I approach problems to this day.

If they have been exposed to diff eq at all I can recommend Strogatz Nonlinear Dynamics and Chaos. It's a very interesting subject, and the text is one of the most approachable I've come across for any subject.

Chaos by James Gleick is also a good intro to some chaos maths and a great bio read, with the stories of Feigenbaum wrestling with the new ideas.

If you want them to look beyond Analysis, would an intro to discrete math maybe be what you're looking at?

Discrete Math With Ducks[0] (and the professor that taught from it) is the reason I focused on the discrete side of things. It doesn't take itself too seriously, and it introduces a range of topics in the area. Plus the mindset is different from analysis. It's an interesting shift

[0] https://www.maa.org/press/maa-reviews/discrete-mathematics-w...

Sanjoy Mahajan's The Art of Insight in Science and Engineering (available online, https://mitpress.mit.edu/books/art-insight-science-and-engin...). Takes a very pragmatic look to doing mathematics, while not pulling many punches on how advanced the mathematics gets. Would have appreciated this a lot, math books are usually split into dry theory where you have to already know math to be able to properly read them and books that are simplified to death for people who are forced to study math and don't want to.

Tim Gowers' Mathematics: A Very Short Introduction is a popular book on doing mathematics. Not a textbook that teaches you mathematics, so wouldn't give this as the only book, but popular "what's the field like" books could be very interesting to a high schooler.

Also, not suitable for the only book, Penrose's The Road to Reality. It gets very advanced and probably can't be fully tackled without additional mathematical education, but it tries to be an honest exposition of the math needed for modern physics from the ground up without explicitly resorting to external knowledge. I would have loved a "this will teach you all of the math if you can get through it" book like this even if I never did manage to get through it.

>What would you have appreciated having been given at that age?

I remember getting God Created The Integers when I was a teenager and... not finishing it. I also got a copy of Brown & Churchill's Complex Variables and Applications and spent hundreds of hours on it. As a teenager, I preferred textbooks with problem sets to popularizations. (I still do.) Of course, this was [complex] analysis, so it doesn't qualify.

One book which is fully technical but also entertaining by way of the subject matter, and which was inspiring to me around 14-15, was Kenneth Falconer's Fractal Geometry:


Of course, at that age, I didn't understand what Falconer meant by describing the Cantor set as "uncountable", or what a "topological dimension" was, but I was able to grasp the gist of many of the arguments in the book because it is very well illustrated and does not rely too much on abstruse algebra techniques. Some people don't enjoy reading a book if they don't fully understand it, but I liked that kind of thing. As I got older and learned more, I started to be able to understand the technical arguments in the book as well.

I would give God Created The Integers as a reference to read up to where you are in math, not as something to get through. So, you could get a feel for what Euclid wrote, or what Descartes wrote, either after or during learning those lessons. As you move through your education, you can keep moving through the book, Cauchy, Galois, Riemann, etc. Anyway, that's the context in which I would give it. BTW Cantor's original diagonal proof is in GCTI. :)

Mathematics: A Discrete Introduction by Edward R. Scheinerman:


I bought this book when I was ~16 because I wanted to learn some discrete maths, but it actually touches many different interesting topics that you don't see in secondary school (including some cryptography!).

Since you mention analysis, I recommend Yet Another Introduction to Analysis and Metric Spaces by Victor Bryant. They should be at the right level and a lot of fun.

Another analysis suggestion is Creative Mathematics by H.S. Wall. It is a book that walks a high school level student through creating the proofs themselves. The topic covered is a stripped down version of analysis, calculus, and later even differential geometry. It's really brilliant. Going slow and having fun when you're a teen would be much more productive than going fast and burning out.

The Spivak book is a good suggestion and might be a little difficult depending on their actual background. The books by Gelfand mentioned by someone else (there's actually a series of them that cover algebra, functions, coordinates, trigonometry, etc.) would help provide the needed background.

The book Conceptual Mathematics is claimed to be aimed at high school students. Maybe give it a whirl and see what happens. If they know calculus, then Advanced Calculus: A Differential Forms Approach by Harold Edwards is a gem. The first three chapters should be readable, as they give heuristic discussions of the topic.

Measurement by Paul Lockhart. Written by the author of the well known Mathematician's Lament essay [1], which deplores the state of school maths education, in response to questions like "Well, what are you going to do about it?".

[1] https://www.maa.org/external_archive/devlin/LockhartsLament....

> It would be a birthday gift, so ideally something that is more than a plain textbook, but which also has depth, and maybe broadens their view

> What would you have appreciated having been given at that age?

Deep math is cool and all, but right now I'm working through a used copy of the Freedman, Pisani and Purves Statistics textbook https://amzn.to/2YVvU6o It's chock full of actual examples from real research and statistics, complete with citations. I just worked through some problem sets today, analyzing some twin studies establishing the link between smoking and cancer. Other topics I can recall: robbery trials, discrimination lawsuits, and coronary bypass surgery.

That said, it's an actual textbook, and expects the learning to come from engaging in problem sets. And it's far less technical than the Stats for Engineers course I barely passed. If you're looking for something less textbooky, Super Crunchers (https://amzn.to/3eTz5RL) is sort of a layman's book on the subject of prediction and statistics.

> I'm looking for recommendations for a maths book for a bright, self-motivated child in their late teens who is into maths (mainly analysis) at upper high-school / early undergrad level.

> It would be a birthday gift, so ideally something that is more than a plain textbook, but which also has depth, and maybe broadens their view of maths beyond analysis. I'm thinking something along the lines of The Princeton Companion to Mathematics, Spivak's Calculus, or Moor & Mertens The Nature of Computation.

> What would you have appreciated having been given at that age?

Common Sense Mathematics by Ethan D. Bolker and Maura B. Mast

My friend was assigned this book for a quantitative reasoning class in college and I was so impressed by how approachable it was. It's got sections on things like climate change and Red Sox ticket prices.

Excerpt from preface:

""" One of the most important questions we ask ourselves as teachers is "what do we want our students to remember about this course ten years from now?"

Our answer is sobering. From a ten year perspective most thoughts about the syllabus -- "what should be covered" -- seem irrelevant. What matters more is our wish to change the way we approach the world. """

Around that age, I read "The Heart of Mathematics", by Edward Burger and Michael Starbird. It's a really fun book which introduces a wide variety of math concepts while being amusing to read.


William Dunham has two books which are great: 1- Euler (The Master of us all) 2- Journey Through Genius.

John Stillwell’s Mathematics and Its History.

Needham’s Visual Complex Analysis.

I would recommend highly "What is Mathematics" by Richard Courant and Herbert Robbins. This is very accessible book for high schoolers who are keen and interested in mathematics, and will expose the reader to a broad array of topics and pique the interest and awaken the imagination and instill the beauty of mathematics. This in turn can drive the reader to find out more and fall in love with the subject.

I would second this by "Concrete Mathematics" by Graham, Knuth and Patashnik. This is actual university course book with very formal proofs and theory, but the subject matter is still largely accessible to serious high school students and demonstrates beautiful reasoning examples throughout. It is also very practical book, after covering techniques in this book, one can often times calculate exact sums of infinite series quicker than estimating their bounds. If your high school student decides to study math at university level, the techniques and skills taught in this book will prove invaluable in broad areas of study.

A bit on the lighter side, I do recommend The Man Who Counted which I read as a kid and absolutely loved


I read the original in Portuguese but would assume it's just as good in English, given overwhelmingly positive reviews on Amazon

See also https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Man_Who_Counted

It won't really teach him math per se, but if my experience is any indication, it will get him hooked on developing intuition and he'll find beauty in otherwise mundane topics such as arithmetic. It's an incredibly engaging story aimed at younger readers but fun for people of all ages – think Arabian Nights with a character that loves math.

Come to think of it, I've got to buy it again and re-read it one of these days

I remember Pi in the Sky by John Barrows very fondly. It has more of a focus on geometry and logic.

A Programmer's Introduction to Mathematics by Jeremy Kun is wide ranging and appropriate if there is also interest in programming.

Nature and Growth of Modern Mathematics by Edna Kramer is a wonderful book if history is a passion as well.

Elements of Mathematics by John Stillwell is a broad overview of subjects. It has a crisp mathematical feel to it.

Vector Calculus, Linear Algebra, and Differential Forms by John & Barbara Hubbard is a beautiful introduction to the multi-dimensional aspects, but it is a book that should happen after knowing one dimensional calculus. .

If your child hasn't been exposed to Guesstimation, then a book on that is highly recommended. The book with that title by Weinstein and Adams is a nice guide to investigating that realm.

If the child does arithmetic from right to left, as is sadly too common, the book Speed Mathematics Simplified by Edward Stoddard is a great remedy for that.

Everyday Calculus by Oscar Fernandez could also be worth a look.

I'm neither bright nor a teenager but I have been enjoying working through Spivak's Calculus. I picked it up because it was recommended as a good intro to pure mathematical thinking for someone who knows calculus. I've found it challenging but it has delivered on that promise.

There are many good recommendations here but I do think it will be good for them to gain some exposure to pure mathematics. It's different than what's typically taught in high school so they can start to get an idea whether they actually want to be a mathematician or instead focus on applied math in an engineering discipline.

Also you're probably going to get a computing bias here. I found the threads on physicsforums.com helpful so you might ask there as well if you want a different bias. (https://www.physicsforums.com/forums/science-and-math-textbo...)

This isn't bad. I'm surprised it's expensive now.


Thx for plug. Indeed it would be a good book for any highschooler interested in more advanced topics.

> I'm surprised it's expensive now.

Yeah amazon pricing is weird. My intent is for the book to be sold ~$30, but if I tell this price to amazon they start selling it for $20 after discounting, and then readers buy it less because they think it is not a complete book, but just some sort of summary notes. Nowadays I set the price to $40 so that after amazon discount the price will end up around $30, but today it is expensive indeed... I might have to bump it down to $35 at some point.

I could have sworn that it was between $15 and $20 when I got it a few years ago.

It's very possible if you purchased it when I had set the price to ~$30 and amazon was discounting it to ~$20.

BTW, I've released several "point" updates and the book is now at v5.3. Please reach out by email if you're interested in having the PDF (I have a free-PDF-with-proof-of-purchase-of-print-version policy, including all updates).

I forgot to mention, there is an extended PDF preview of the book you can see here: https://minireference.com/static/excerpts/noBSguide_v5_previ...

Also some parts of the best parts of the book are available in full as standalone free tutorials: SymPy = https://minireference.com/static/tutorials/sympy_tutorial.pd... ; mechanics tutorial = https://minireference.com/static/tutorials/mech_in_7_pages.p... ; concept maps = https://minireference.com/static/tutorials/conceptmap.pdf

"The Annotated Turing" by Christian Petzold made a huge impression on me around that age. It doesn't discuss analysis but it gives a nice walkthrough of Turing's classic paper where he introduces the Turing machine and uses it to solve the decidability problem of Diophantine equations.

Also, "Street Fighting Mathematics" from the MIT press

The author's name is "Charles Petzold" and yes "The Annotated Turing" is a great book.

All of Petzold's books are excellent, in particular; "Code: The Hidden Language of Computer Hardware and Software" should be read by everybody to understand how Computers really work.

I appreciated getting from maths to CS with Structure and Interpretation of Computer Programs: https://mitpress.mit.edu/sites/default/files/sicp/full-text/...

A group of us maintain an annotated bibliography of math textbooks used at the University of Chicago. The entry level ones (like Spivak's Calculus) would be good to check out: https://github.com/ystael/chicago-ug-math-bib

Spivak was my 1st-year college textbook and it convinced me to major in math. I highly recommend.

The university track will already put him on rails for a while. I believe your instinct on the encyclopedia should be followed because he should gain breadth early on to be sure that he has enough insight not to prematurely specialize.

It depends on your budget, but I would recommend the 10-volume set of “Encyclopaedia of Mathematics” (spelled just like that), which is a translation of the Soviet mathematics version. I have found that this is the resource I turn to when I want to quickly explore some new area of mathematics.

Because there are many books with this title, I will link to Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Encyclopaedia-Mathematics-Michiel-Haz...

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flatland - Flatland - A romance in many dimensions

It was a great book that helped get my teenage enquiring mind to look at maths, science and thinking in different ways. Not a text book - but well worth a read.

Flatland also contains some rather, well, Victorian attitudes. Mathematically, one can get 73.8193% of what the book covers from watching Carl Sagan's bit in the relevant Cosmos episode.

If they like calculus and can stand proofs, I’d recommend a Course of Pure Mathematics by Hardy. It totally blew my mind when I was that age, to see how everything was “connected” by proofs, starting with real numbers. Despite being proof heavy, I found the writing style singularly legible and comprehensible.

Metamathematics by Kleene. Fairly accessible math, mostly new and developed from the start it takes one into compatibility theory and formalization of maths in a way that makes Godel easy to understand and just full of cool ideas that are very relevant to today’s world of computers and the limits to certainty.

"Uncle Petros and Goldbach's Conjecture" by Apostolos Doxiadis.

Not a math book, but a really well written, full with math history novel about the value of mathematics in a human's life. It gives you the reason, why you should know (higher) maths, even if you will won't become a mathematician.

How to Prove It by Velleman [0]. Should help with the increasing emphasis on proofs.

[0] http://users.metu.edu.tr/serge/courses/111-2011/textbook-mat...

If you want to get away from analysis, I've found that cryptography can be quite an engaging subject. If you have the right book, it can have the rigors of more mathematical subjects, while being accessible without extensive background and having visible real-world applications. I unfortunately don't have much experience with books in this area, but I do like https://files.boazbarak.org/crypto/lnotes_book.pdf (plus it's free ;) ).

[EDIT: Previously I recommended Calculus on Manifolds here also, but on further reflection and reading some of the other responses I think I both misremembered the difficulty level of the book and overestimated what early-undergrad level means]

A little off-topic (and perhaps more useful for younger students) but you could do worse than introduce them to the achievements of Gauss (though they are probably somewhat familiar), who as a teenager had discovered and rediscovered several important theorems - his foundational Disquisitiones Arithmeticae was written at 21.


This book is aimed at a young audience, though I haven't read it and cannot say whether it is age-appropriate for late-teens.


The books by Tent are mathematically at a 4th or 5th grade level. They’re sort of like Jean Lee Latham’s bio of Nathaniel Bowditch (you learn a fictionalized life story but you can’t really grok the person’s contribution). Of course, most mathematicians lead far more boring lives than Bowditch did in his youth, so the kind of kid who is reading Harry Potter by 4th or 5th grade is going to find them very dry.

Problem-Solving Strategies by Arthur Engel. It's more than a textbook and not easily absorbed. The book + the internet is a powerful combination for not just learning cool math skills but building mental models/ problem framing lenses that will benefit them later in life

Polya's How to Solve It changed the way I thought about learning mathematics. His treatment of random walks in one dimension (eventually all walks return to the same point) vs three dimensions (where they can escape) really affected my mental model of the world.

Instead of How To Solve It, which is organized dictionary–style with short sections on particular named problem solving topics, and is somewhat hard to interpret for novices without guidance, let me recommend Polya’s other two books (each 2 volumes), Mathematical Discovery and Mathematics and Plausible Reasoning.

For broadening their view:

- Proofs and Refutations by Imre Lakatos (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Proofs_and_Refutations) (makes you think about what a proof really is)

- The World of Mathematics: not a lot of math proper, doesn’t have much depth, but lots of examples of applied math, interwoven with mentions of the history of mathematics (https://www.amazon.com/World-Mathematics-Four-Set/dp/0486432...)

1) "The Science of Programming", by David Gries, is an excellent book dealing with mathematical proof based approach to programming.

2) "The Book of Numbers", by John H. Conway and Richard Guy is a beautiful book which discusses about figurative numbers amoung several other beautiful topics.

3) "Stories About Maxima and Minima", V. M. Tikhomirov has some beautiful anecdotes and interesting applications of calculus.

4) "Contemporary Abstract Algebra", by Joseph Gallian is an algebra textbook that goes beyond just teaching material. It has quotations, biographies, puzzles and interesting applications of algebra.

The princeton companion is nice to have around, but you do not really read it end to end.

Spivak's calculus you bring to the beach and read it between swim and swim.

EDIT: Also, some books by Hilbert are breathtakingly beautiful: Geometry and the Imagination (just the chapter on synthetic differential geometry is worth more than 10 other great books), and the Methods of Mathematical Physics is also great. It begins by giving three proofs of cauchy-schwartz inequality, and then goes on to give several different definitions of the eigenvectors of a matrix. Both of those make great beach readings for this summer.

"The Symmetries of Things" [1] by John H. Conway, Heidi Burgiel, and Chaim Goodman-Strauss.

A fantastic and beautifully illustrated expository work describing symmetry groups such as the 17 wallpaper groups in the plane (think Escher), and other tiling groups in for example the hyperbolic plane. Love the use of orbifold notation as opposed to crystallographic notation.

[1] https://www.amazon.com/Symmetries-Things-John-H-Conway/dp/15...

A list:


For a single suggestion, "How to Think Like a Mathematician" by Kevin Houston.

A second suggestion: "A Companion to Analysis" by Tom Körner.

But it depends a lot on whether you want books about math, or books of math. It sounds like you want the latter ... at some point I'll get around to putting annotations on the choices in the list that would help distinguish.

This might be a bit of a different take than the other comments here, but I highly enjoyed reading Things to Make and Do in the Fourth Dimension by Matt Parker when I first became interested in maths.

I would second the recommendation for Who is Fourier? A Mathematical Adventure. It's an unusual and engaging introduction to waves, Fourier coefficients, and transforms. The slope is gentle but not dumbed down. https://www.amazon.com/Who-Fourier-Mathematical-Adventure-2n....

My 13 year old and I have through parts of the first three chapters of "An Illustrated Theory of Numbers". I would reckon that if your student is motivated and at upper high school level, they would have the sophistication to go at it alone. It is just a beautiful book also, with lots of exercises and the associate website http://illustratedtheoryofnumbers.com/ also has Python notebooks if they are into programming.

The Pleasures of Counting by T. W. Körner. If you want something more oriented towards analysis, I see he also authored a Calculus for the Ambitious but I have no experience with it.

"The Joy of X" by Steven Strogatz

"Euler's Gem" by Dave Richeson

"A Companion to Analysis" by Tom Körner

"Elementary Number Theory: A Problem Oriented Approach" by Joe Roberts

The Manga Guide to Linear Algebra was a light, but useful introduction to linear algebra for me during the summer before my freshman year of college.

I enjoyed "our mathematical universe" by max tegmark. It's not the books intention to teach mathematics, but rather explain how the author sees a link between mathematics and the universe.

It will be some new mathematical concepts for him, but I reckon he will be able to Google what does are.. I also find it extra motivating to learn a new mathematical tool when I know what type of problem it can solve!

I'm going to guess that for the OP, their reader is already past this level, but sharing anyway for the benefit of others, as I think it's a great book for roughly around that age:


Discrete Mathematics with Applications by Susanna S. Epp. is one of my favorite textbooks. Discrete math is considered a sophomore-level college subject, but it's really not that challenging, and the textbook is extremely thorough and understandable.

Discrete math is also orthogonal to typical math curricula so it's unlikely to be redundant to anything they've already learned or will learn.

Maybe this one "[The Pea And The Sun](https://www.amazon.com/Pea-Sun-Mathematical-Paradox/dp/15688.... It reads in a nice flow and shows theoretical math in an understandable way even though it covers a very complex theorem.

There are many books on that front, particularly the ones related to recreational math or intro higher math (see https://mathvault.ca/books for instance). Spivak's Calculus as an intro would be an interesting start, though Stewart's Calculus is dense but more accessible.

There is no such thing as 'maths'. It is called 'math' which is short for 'mathematics'. I have an advanced degree in mathematics. No one ever called mathematics 'maths' while I was in college. Absolutely no one. They would have been laughed out of the room.

"Maths" is the standard Anglophone term outside of North America.

Engineering Mathematics - K.A Stroud

It's sometimes useful to see the context of mathematics and it's purpose beyond the intrinsic beauty.

Seconded. Starts with bare essentials and goes a long way. It’s amazing how much you can learn from this book. (Also, his Advanced Engineering Mathematics.)

Mathematics: Its Content, Methods and Meaning (3 Volumes in One) Paperback – by A. D. Aleksandrov, A. N. Kolmogorov, M. A. Lavrent’ev

The best book.

I think the Princeton Companion would be a nice gift because it's something they can dip into as they desire. With a more linear book you may appear to confer an obligation to wade through it from beginning to end. (I also really like the Companion and although I've never splashed out on a copy for myself I wish someone else would :) )

At that age, I enjoyed Number Theory by George E. Andrews


Your child is probably beyond this but it's one of my favorite pre-calculus books

Mathematics, a human endeavor by Harold R. Jacobs


Introduction to Logic: And to the Methodology of Deductive Sciences, by Alfred Tarski. One of my favorite math books, which convinced to pursue an undergrad in math. Being an intro logic book it's completeley self-contained and may not not even feel like a math book, but yet a great intro into foundational stuff.

I bought it, but I only read a chapter of it, after seeing it in a bookstore. Nonetheless:

Mrs. Perkins's Electric Quilt: And Other Intriguing Stories of Mathematical Physics by Paul J. Nahin

It sounds like it's at about the right difficulty/knowledge level, and it has interesting stuff, isn't a boring textbook.

This book is totally inappropriate for learning mathematics, especially for a teenager. A well-prepared layman, maybe, but not a teenager who just wants a good introduction to the subject.

It's an inspired book, but it's not a textbook.

It's purpose to me at least was as a guide to the mathematics that was too difficult for me to understand straight away but could be considered the end goal to a given study i.e. As Symplectic Geometry is Analytical Mechanics.

I would be absolutely flabbergasted if a layman could get through Road to Reality. Even those with an engineering or computer science background would struggle considerably.

That said, it serves as a great overview of physics for mathematicians and perhaps as very casual intro to twistor theory for physicists.

Gödel's Proof and GEB blew my mind in high school, gave me the motivation to actually attend my math classes, because it finally showed me there was more interesting stuff at the end of the math tunnel. Of course I only understood a fraction of it then (still do), but it was eye-opening.

"Calculus made Easy" comes to mind. Probably not the best suggestion here, but it is available on Gutenberg. [1]

[1]: https://www.gutenberg.org/files/33283/33283-pdf.pdf

For broadening his view, and sparking some fun and joy of maths, try "Humble Pi" by Matt Parker:


Mathographics by Robert Dixon https://www.amazon.co.uk/Mathographics-Robert-Dixon/dp/06311...

IIRC it explains how to make the pictures

The little LISPer is the book I wish I encountered junior/senior year. For someone coming from more of a traditional math/logic education than anything else, it would have been nice to have that introduction to thinking about computation before classes in C.

This may be too basic, but "The Magic of Math" by Arthur Benjamin


For analysis you absolutely MUST read Principles of Mathematical Analysis by Walter Rudin. Covers everything and is literally a gold standard text in modern analysis. "Baby Rudin" is essentially the analysis bible that all subsequent texts worked off of.

I heard a bunch of students complain about how tough the text for our Real Analysis class was, so I was surprised to find it felt pretty readable to me. Turns out it was a new prof that semester who decided to go with "Mathematical Analysis, Second Edition by Tom Apostol" instead of Baby Rudin.

Point being, there may be a better analysis text for this student to start with right now- depends highly on their background/situation, but personally I am glad I didn't have to read Rudin for my first "real" math course.

Seconded. For what it's worth, Harvard's Math 55 uses that as its textbook.

When I was younger, I received a book about video game physics as a gift. The combination of applied mathematics and, well, games really hooked me for that year. In the end, I built my own physics simulation and collision detection engine after school.

The OpenStax series are free. I've found the explanations very clear and detailed:


Some are even downloadable to a Kindle (for free) on Amazon.

I enjoyed "The Mathematical Tourist" by Ivars Peterson although it might be more "descriptive" than you are looking for. I found it quite inspiring, probably early in high school (forget when exactly I got it - maybe even earlier).

Maybe a textbook like Topology by Armstrong, or Galois Theory by Ian Stewart.

Anything by Iam Stewart is a good read.

Not strictly about math but still recommended and specially for younger folks: Logicomix. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Logicomix

This may not be exactly what you are looking for but you should checkout the cartoon introduction to economics by Yoram Bauman. Its a good book to start an interest in economics, it is not deep at all but could lead to other sources.

If you are planning on majoring in math (or related), why not get a head start and get some textbooks corresponding to actual courses you would like to take at the college/university you are planning/hoping to attend?

I wish I read this before taking college-level Calculus


I think I would have really enjoyed Mathematics and its History by Stillwell. It does a good job connecting analysis, algebraic geometry and number theory following the historical evolution of modern topics.

+1 for Proofs from the BOOK, Visual Group Theory, and Flatland, already recommended by others.

-1 for Polya's How to Solve it - I don't remember a damned thing from it.

This is a beautiful book, especially if he or she is into magic: Magical Mathematics: The Mathematical Ideas That Animate Great Magic Tricks by Persi Diaconis, Ron Graham

The classic text on analysis is Principles of Mathematical Analysis by Rudin. Its very difficult and leaves it to the reader to understand the terse proofs. It starts from the beignning, with no math background assumed about the reader. The terse proofs are written in such a way to force the reader to gain deep mathematical intuition. Some of the proofs are elegant and beautiful. I would absolutely recommend it. You can see a pdf here:


> It starts from the beignning, with no math background assumed about the reader.

It assumes that you have enough mathematical maturity to deal with proofs left to the reader.

IMO, Rudin is difficult not because of its proofs or lack of them (many proofs in discrete math can be no less brutal than anything in Rudin), rather that it's almost completely and utterly devoid of illuminating examples. For example, the definitions of "neighborhood", "limit point", "closed set", "open set", "bounded set", "perfect set", dense set" are crammed into a single definition 2.18 in chapter 2(Topology in Euclidean Spaces) in 3rd edition. The rest of the chapter is made up of theorems and corollaries. No related examples. On the other hand, Raffi Grinberg's analysis book meant to guide one through Rudin's book spends a whole chapter on elaborating on 2.18. And to be honest even that is barely adequate (totally inadequate, actually) if one wishes to become technically proficient in dealing with basic concepts in analysis with ease (that requires exposure to lots and lots of different examples). Although, probably, neither book has the latter as their goal.

Not a book recommendation but maybe applied math or probability/statistics towards investing or AI/ML. A fast feedback loop can do wonders for learning.

oraclerank.com kaggle.com

Of the books mentioned in this thread so far I think I'd have been most excited about the Princeton Companion to Mathematics as a birthday present.

Here's why:

- Your goal of the gift is something more than a plain textbook. The Princeton Companion is something your child will return to throughout their math career. It will be an anchor book that will remind them of your support for them when they were still a budding mathematician.

- Relatedly, the book is far too broad to be consumed as a textbook. Hence it will be more like a friend (or companion :) ) on their journey. Even a really amazing textbook (like Baby Rudin) in contrast is just a snapshot of where they are now.

For the younger, less-motivated child: "Mathematics: A Human Endeavor"

... so probably not good for this kid, but always worth mentioning in the context of awesome math books.

Have they worked through everything Martin Gardner ever wrote?

I second this! Gardner would be something more recreational and fun than a lot else out there. The Colossal Book of Mathematics is a good way to get a lot in one place. The Night is Large is also great but less math-focused.

I don't see any recommendations for Smullyan yet. The Lady or the Tiger is the classic I think, but I really loved Forever Undecided.

I thought of a few others that are "fun":

- The Annotated Turing by Charles Petzold

- Quantum Computing since Democritus by Scott Aaronson

- Euclidean and Non-Euclidean Geometries by Marvin Jay Greenberg (a textbook, but an easy one to read on your own)

- Gödel's Proof by Nagel and Newman (best if he can read it with a partner and talk through the steps)

- Prime Obsession by John Derbyshire

Some of those have already been mentioned, but consider this another vote for them. :-)

I got Spivak as a first Calculus book and it felt a bit over my head, but if one already has some knowledge and appreciation of analysis, it'd be a great gift.

Lots of book recommendations here already, so a complementary idea:

Is it possible where you are to have your teenager attend maths lectures at a university as an auditing student?

There's a good gift, a bad gift, and a book though

I passed the AP calc exam with calculus for dummies. It was great, though I'm not sure that kind of title is received well as a gift.

This might be a silly recommendation, but "Higher Algebra" by Hall and Knight was brilliant for me when I was around 15 or so.

Calculus by M.Kline would be not a bad start. For a broad (yet detailed) overview, Mathematics by Aleksandrov et al. is exceptional.

"Proofs from the book" is very neat.

Godel Escher Bach is a good place to start. Or any book about Godel. That's a great place to blow a kids mind.

Thought of another one: Quantum Computing Since Democritus by Scott Aaronson

Check out betterexplained.com

Informal math book called An Infinitely large Napkin is amazing for fun math

I think "Gödel, Escher, Bach" is the perfect book.

Why not give them all, in a handy pdf or e-pub format? ;)

"What is Mathematics" by Courant, a classic

Can't go wrong with Spivak's Calculus.

What is Mathematics? by Courant and Robbins

Walter Rudin real and complex analysis

The Kingdom of The Infinite Number

Art of problem solving volume 2!!

Surely your joking Mr Feinman. I was a child prodigy eons ago and wished I read that when I was a teen.

Linear algebra, and more than one such book.

IMHO long and still the best linear algebra book is

Halmos, Finite Dimensional Vector Spaces (FDVS).

It was written in 1942 when Halmos was an "assistant" to John von Neumann at the Institute for Advanced Study. It is intended to be finite dimensional vector spaces but done with the techniques of Hilbert space. The central result in the book, according to Halmos, is the spectral decomposition. One result at a time, the quality of von Neumann comes through. Commonly physicists have been given that book as their introduction to Hilbert space for quantum mechanics.

But FDVS is a little too much for a first book on linear algebra, or maybe even a second book, should be maybe a third one.

Also high quality is Nering, Linear Algebra and Matrix Theory. Again, the quality comes through: Nering was a student of Artin at Princeton. There Nering does most of linear algebra on just finite fields, not just the real and complex fields; finite fields in linear algebra are important in error correcting codes. So, that finite field work is a good introduction to abstract algebra.

For a first book on linear algebra, I'd recommend something easy. The one I used was

Murdoch, Linear Algebra for Undergraduates.

It's still okay if can find it.

For a first book, likely the one by Strang at MIT is good. Just use it as a first book and don't take it too seriously since are going to cover all of it and more again later.

I can recommend the beginning sections on vector spaces, convexity, and the inverse and implicit function theorems in

Fleming, Functions of Several Variables

Fleming was long at the Brown University Division of Applied Math. The later chapters are on measure theory, the Lebesgue integral, and the exterior algebra of differential forms, and there are better treatments.

Also there is now

Stephen Boyd and Lieven Vandenberghe, Introduction to Applied Linear Algebra – Vectors, Matrices, and Least Squares



Since the book is new, I've only looked through it -- it looks like a good selection and arrangement of topics. And Boyd is good, wrote a terrific book, maybe, IMHO likely, the best in the world, on convexity, which is in a sense is half of linearity.

Some course slides are available at


For reference for more, have a copy of

Richard Bellman, Introduction to Matrix Analysis: Second Edition.

Bellman was famous for dynamic programming.

For computations in linear algebra, consider

George E. Forsythe and Cleve B. Moler, Computer Solution of Linear Algebraic Systems

although now the Linpack materials might be a better starting point for numerical linear algebra. Numerical linear algebra is now a well developed specialized field, and the Linpack materials might be a good start on the best of the field. Such linear algebra is apparently the main yardstick in evaluating the highly parallel supercomputers.

After linear algebra go through

Rudin, Principles of Mathematical Analysis, Third Edition.

He does the Riemann integral very carefully, Fourier series, vector analysis via exterior algebra, and has the inverse and implicit function theorems (key to differential geometry, e.g., for relativity theory) as exercises.

All of this material is to get to the main goals of measure theory, the Lebesgue integral, Fourier theory, Hilbert space and Banach space as in, say, the first, real (not complex) half of

Rudin, Real and Complex Analysis

But for that I would start with

Royden, Real Analysis

sweetheart writing on that math.

Depending on the math department, those books might be enough to pass the Ph.D. qualifying exam in Analysis. It was for me: From those books I did the best in the class on that exam.

Moreover, from independent study of Halmos, Nering, Fleming, Forsythe, linearity in statistics, and some more, I totally blew away all the students in a challenging second (maybe intentionally flunk out), advanced course in linear algebra and, then, did the best in the class on the corresponding qualifying exam, that is, where that second course was my first formal course in linear algebra.

Lesson: Just self study of those books can give a really good background in linear algebra and its role in the rest of pure and applied math.

No joke, linear algebra, and the associated vector spaces, is one of the most important courses for more work in pure and applied math, engineering, and likely the future of computing.

Linear Algebra Done Right

Polya’s How to Solve It.

Buy them 2 books as follows:

#1: your "The Princeton Companion.." or any of the great suggestions that you got here


#2: "Gödel, Escher, Bach: an Eternal Golden Braid" by Douglas Hofstadter. Best if you can get an old, old beat up paper copy at Amazon. Tell him that if he's lucky it will take him a lifetime to actually "get it". Tell him to keep the book in sight, bedroom, studio.. why not, bathroom. And to just read it not sequentially but at random. That is the best present to a mind thirsty for knowledge.

He might not appreciate it right not, he will appreciate it 30 years from today, if he's lucky.

I stumbled on Q.E.D by Feynman at a young age - it had a deep influence on me. I also read parts of "the mathematical experience" by Davis and Hersch, and "Godel, Escher, Bach" by Douglas Hofstadter.

It's not really maths, but Spacetime Physics: Introduction to Special Relativity would have been great for me at that age.

The Princeton Companion is a cool book, but it'd be better suited to a graduate in mathematics.

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