Do you like pi(e)? If the only thing you know about pi is that it’s missing an e at the end, we understand. Math can be intimidating and understanding one of the most elusive numbers in mathematics can be even trickier. But math doesn’t have to be impossible. In fact, these ten authors would argue that math can be fun, enlightening, and accessible.
Math is everywhere. It’s been a part of civilization since ancient times. And pi has fascinated mathematicians from its initial discovery all the way to present day. It’s been described as transcendent, elusive, and has an intriguing history—so much that we dedicated an entire day to celebrating its existence. This Pi Day, take a break from eating your favorite form of pi(e) and settle in with one of these ten books about math that you’ll actually enjoy.
A History of Pi by Petr Beckmann
It may not seem that math is influenced by politics or global strife, but according to Beckmann, that simply isn’t true. A History of Pi follows how mathematicians over the centuries overcame various challenges to calculate pi with greater accuracy each time. While die-hard math fans will appreciate the formulas and equations, they aren’t necessary in understanding or enjoying the book. As Beckmann himself says in the introduction: skip them. It’s a history of math, but it’s also a history of humanity, highlighting how our relentless obsessions with finding the answers that propel society forward.
How to Bake Pi: An Edible Exploration of the Mathematics of Mathematics by Eugenia Cheng
What do food and math have in common? Quite a bit, according to Eugenia Cheng. The problem with math isn’t that it’s hard, it’s perspective. It’s designed to make our lives easier, and yet, we’re taught math within the strict confines of pencil and paper equations. Cheng takes math off the page and highlights all the ways math is helpful. From the kitchen to literature, Cheng brings her infectious love of math and life to the reader in a funny and approachable manner. How to Bake Pi is less a book about math and more a book on confidence, understanding, and always knowing when your brother took too much cake.
Not a Wake: A Dream Bmbodying (Pi)’s Digits Fully for 10,000 Decimals by Michael Keith
Not a Wake is not exactly a book to read. It’s a book to experience. Composed in the structure of pi’s digits through constrained writing, Not a Wake reveals the first 10,000 digits in this fascinating and famous mathematical number through poetry, short stories, puzzles, a movie script, a play, and more. Math lovers, puzzle fanatics, and devotees of experimental writing will delight in this intricate and interesting ode to pi.
Pi in the Sky: Counting, Thinking, and Being by John D. Barrow
Did we invent math to explain the universe? Or was it always there waiting to be discovered? That’s the question at the heart of Pi in the Sky. Barrow merges math and philosophy, drawing on some of history’s most unique thinkers such as Umberto Eco, Charles Darwin, and Lao-Tse to investigate whether math can ultimately help reveal the meaning of the universe. Starting with ancient civilizations and moving to modern times, Pi in the Sky explores not just how math got us where we are today, but where it might take us in the future.
Humble Pi: A Comedy of Maths Errors by Matt Parker
Whether you like math or not, it’s impossible to deny that the world is built on it. If you’re like most people, you probably found yourself asking a teacher this: “But when am I ever going to use math in real life?” Rather than show you how math works in your day-to-day life, Matt Parker would rather highlight math’s importance by looking at what happens when people get math wrong. From misplaced decimals disrupting the stock market to a battleship in the middle of the ocean stalled thanks to dividing a number by zero, Humble Pi will make you feel better about every (math) mistake you’ve ever made.
Weird Ways to Work with Pi by James Tanton
Pi is most commonly used in circles? But why? And is that the only shape it works with? James Tanton plays with the value of pi in triangles, squares and other shapes. Only 54 pages long, Weird Ways to Work with Pi is a quick but fun exploration of pi that shows the beauty and complexity of the number.
Pi: A Biography of the World’s Most Mysterious Number by Alfred S. Posamentier, Ingmar Lehmann, Herbert A. Hauptman
A number unlike any other, pi has fascinated, stymied, and been an obsession of mathematicians since ancient times. Archimedes calculated an early approximation and Ludolph van Ceulen had it inscribed on his tombstone. This biography is a comprehensive look at pi, from how it was discovered through the evolution of its calculation. Filled with fun facts (did you know there was an attempt to legislate its exact value?), useful applications in daily life, and an entire chapter of the first 10,000 digits, Pi has something for everyone.
Easy as Pi: The Countless Ways We Use Numbers Every Day by Jamie Buchan
You don’t have to be a math whiz or history buff to dazzle friends and family with a plethora of numerical knowledge. How does the binary system exist with only two numbers? Where do phrases like ‘cloud nine’ and ‘seventh heaven’ come from? What number will never be issued at as a Social Security Number—and why? Whether you love to collect fun facts or want to dominate at your next trivia game, Easy as Pi is filled with everything you’ve ever wanted to know about math, numbers, and more.
How Not to Be Wrong: The Power of Mathematical Thinking by Jordan Ellenberg
Life is messy. Math is not. But understanding how to navigate the modern world through the mathematical lens isn’t something many people consider. Jordan Ellenberg wants to change that. Math can help you figure out exactly how early you need to be to catch your next flight. Or how to sort through any statistic presented in the media. All current events have a thread of math woven through them. How Not to Be Wrong shows you that once you can identify and interpret the math in any given situation, you’ll have an in-depth perspective that makes navigating uncertainty far more certain.
Secrets of Mental Math: The Mathematician’s Guide to Lightning Calculation and Amazing Math Tricks by Arthur Benjamin and Michael Shermer
Arthur Benjamin believes math is magic. And he can prove it. In Secrets of Mental Math, he teaches you things like multiplying and dividing triple digit numbers in seconds, calculating the square root or cube of any number, and solving complex equations in your head. Anyone can become a math genius—even if you’ve never been good at math. All it takes is underrstanding some simple secrets and tricks. By the end of this book, you’ll be calculating numbers so fast, your friends will call you a mathamagician in no time.