Maths. As a word, it may bring up terrible memories: row upon row of algebra equations, hours of precious childhood spent on confusing and complex sums. Even in our adult lives, some of us avoid using maths wherever possible – even physicists opt for research that has fewer mathematical equations on the page.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. These easy-to-understand non-fiction books will help you get a grip on geometry and be more confident using cosine, sine and tan… or they might just help you help with GCSE maths homework. Some will also shed light on the history of maths, through memoir or even fiction.
For more reading recommendations and free samples of new and popular books, sign up to the Science Focus book club newsletter.
Looking for gift ideas? Check out our list of the best science and tech gifts.
The best maths books out now
The Wonder Book of Geometry: A Mathematical Story by David Acheson
David Acheson has set geometry free from the confines of stuffy textbooks and lets loose its potential to surprise and delight. There’s a rich and ancient history to be found in these pages, and a future for the field that extends beyond neat (yet elegant) equations.
The Ten Equations that Rule the World: And How You Can Use Them Too by David Sumpter
When you understand the mathematical equations that underpin everyday life, you can use them to your advantage.
David Sumpter shows how just 10 formulae govern many aspects of the world, from betting and sports to social media and technology. He should know – David has worked with some of world’s biggest football clubs and as a consultant in sports betting.
The Weird Maths series by David Darling and Agnijo Banerjee
- Buy Weird Maths: At the Edge of Infinity and Beyond from Amazon, Waterstones or Bookshop.org
- Buy Weirder Maths: At the Edge of the Possible from Amazon, WHSmith or Bookshop.org
- Buy Weirdest Maths: At the Frontiers of Reason from Amazon, Waterstones or Bookshop.org
- £9.99 each
Mathematics is weird.
Teenage maths whizz Agnijo Banerjee, and his tutor and science writer David Darling, fill the pages of three books with exotic and unusual facts about maths, including God’s Number (the smallest number of moves it takes to solve a Rubik’s cube) and the reigning role of Pi in just about everything.
Mathematics for Human Flourishing by Francis Su
Mathematics for Human Flourishing is a stunning, yet simple, account of a life in maths. Francis Su recounts the history of the subject to reveal its necessity for our development.
If you’ve ever wondered why some refer to equations as ‘elegant’ or maths as ‘beautiful’, this book is for you.
Humble Pi: A Comedy of Maths Errors by Matt Parker
Maths can get a bad rep, especially when even the slightest miscalculation can lead to catastrophe. In his new book, stand-up comedian and general maths whizz Matt Parker digs out his calculator to work out why so many disasters can arise from simple mistakes – often with deadly consequences.
The Mathematics of Love by Hannah Fry
- Buy now from Amazon
While all of Hannah Fry’s books are well worth a read, this one stands out as being original among maths books. Based on her TEDxTalk of the same name, it’s a quick and engaging read that explains a deeply complex emotion in mathematical patterns.
- Watch Hannah Fry’s TEDxTalk on the mathematics of love
- Listen to our podcast episode with Hannah Fry about the 2019 Royal Institution Christmas Lectures
Beyond Infinity: An Expedition to the Outer Limits of the Mathematical Universe by Eugenia Cheng
It takes a talented writer to bring the concept of infinity to life, but Eugenia Cheng’s infectious enthusiasm makes maths a delight. Discover why some infinities are bigger than others, and why there’s always room at an infinite hotel, even if it’s full.
- Read an extract from Beyond Infinity
Numbers Don’t Lie: 71 things you need to know about the world by Vaclav Smil
A book for anyone confused by statistics or dubious of data in a world where numbers seem to mean everything and nothing. Vaclav Smil’s new book reveals why diesel isn’t as bad as you think, how much food is really being wasted, what actually makes people happy, and much more.
The Maths of Life and Death: Why Maths is (Almost) Everything by Kit Yates
Kit Yates is a gentle and friendly guide for any beginner stepping into the world of maths. He explains the world around us through numbers and statistics, but in a way that is witty and engaging.
You’ll almost forget you’re learning as you fall into Kit’s world, but when you close the book, you’ll look at every fact and figure with new scrutiny.
Maths on the Back of an Envelope: Clever ways to (roughly) calculate anything by Rob Eastaway
Hannah Fry describes Rob Eastaway’s book as “a delightfully accessible guide to how to play with numbers”, and who are we to disagree?
Arming you with the tools you need to solve tricky maths problems with, you guessed it, just the back of an envelope (and a pencil, and probably a rubber, and a brain too…)
Hinton: A Novel by Mark Blacklock
Charles Howard Hinton was a Victorian scientist, inventor and novelist, and an explorer of unmapped realms of the mind. As a young man in the 1880s, Hinton was seized by an idea that had escaped from speculative geometry and been taken up by excitable spiritualists: what if space were actually four-dimensional, and not limited to length, breadth and height?
Just as his work was gaining readers, scandal struck: he was discovered to have committed bigamy.
This novel recreates the life of Charles Hinton, inviting the reader to become historical detectives solving long-forgotten mysteries and discovering archival crimes.
How To Predict Everything: The Formula for Transforming What We Know About Life and the Universe by William Poundstone
There is a formula that has circulated for the last 50 years which suggests we can pinpoint the end of something with a reasonable amount of certainty.
William Poundstone’s new book explains the history of this enigmatic equation – how long we have left as a species on this planet, whether we can shift the odds in our favour, and how we can predict, well, pretty much everything else.
The Weil Conjectures: On Maths and the Pursuit of the Unknown by Karen Olsson
André and Simone Weil were brother and sister. One a renowned mathematician known for contributions to algebraic geometry and number theory, the other a famous philosopher and political activist. Maths and philosophy become entangled in this fascinating memoir of the two 20th-Century figures.
Numb and Number: How to Avoid Being Mystified by the Mathematics of Modern Life by William Hartston
Numbers tell us everything and nothing. They’re used in the statistics that surround us on a daily basis, from the rise in COVID-19 cases to the savings on spending we hope to make before Christmas.
But if you’re not one of the lucky few who can say, “Oh, mathematics was my best subject at school,” then you might find yourself stumped by the news, or personal finance, or chaos and catastrophe (yes, William Hartston shows us there’s maths involved there, too). Luckily, Numb and Number is able to explain these things and more, in a way that’s easy to understand and even enjoyable to read.
When We Cease to Understand the World by Benjamin Labatut
Einstein, Schrödinger and Schwarzchild are among science history’s biggest names, and there are plenty of books focusing on their achievements and the impact they had on science.
In Benjamín Labatut’s new book, scientists take on a new form. One that is moulded by their minds, shaped by the weight of the scientific community that they carry around. When We Cease to Understand the World blends fact with fiction to make for a reading experience quite unlike any other.
The best books of all time
We reckon this is a fine selection of books about maths, but if nothing here takes your fancy, take a look at a few more of our book recommendations: