Awesome math book and an anecdote on it

April 30, 2012 by Joshua
in Blog, Creativity, Nature

Math and science to me are beautiful — about the most beautiful things in the world. I hope some of that comes across when I write on them.

After a couple posts on a physicist’s perspective on our impact on the world — about an awesome blog (called Do The Math, but it has a science perspective) and an awesome video presentation by the blogger, here’s something on math.

When I started graduate school in physics at the University of Pennsylvania, I thought I could still study some math on the side. It turns out physics grad school takes all your time (I was also playing Ultimate Frisbee), but I had time to establish a relationship with a professor in the math department.

He suggested a book to read that turned out to be one of my favorite books on math, G. H. Hardy‘s Course in Pure Mathematics.

He taught me well on it also. When I saw him after I got it he asked how far I’d gotten. I told him I read well into it, maybe a few chapters. He was surprised, but then learned I was just reading it without doing the problems.

He said he’d rather I was one page into it if I were solving that problems than finishing it — words to live by if you know how to apply them to your passions. To make them active instead of passive.

So I restarted, reading it with a notebook, solving every problem. Slower on pages, but the book, and the math in it, came alive.

I probably still have my notebook somewhere. I’m not sure how far I got before being overwhelmed with physics and eventually returning to Columbia to finish my PhD.

The book

I’m writing this post because I read someone reset the book (in LateX, for geeks out there who know about typesetting math) and made it freely available on Project Gutenberg.

Here is Hardy’s Course in Pure Mathematics in pdf. One of the best introductions to math you’ll ever find. A great challenge, but worth everything you put into it. Plus, if you know me but you don’t know much math, it will help you understand a lot of how I think better.

It will challenge you, as the preface implies.

This book has been designed primarily for the use of first year students
at the Universities whose abilities reach or approach something like what is
usually described as ‘scholarship standard’. I hope that it may be useful to
other classes of readers, but it is this class whose wants I have considered
first. It is in any case a book for mathematicians: I have nowhere made
any attempt to meet the needs of students of engineering or indeed any
class of students whose interests are not primarily mathematical.

I regard the book as being really elementary.

When a mathematician calls something elementary, it usually means it’s hard.

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