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Science and Math For Adults? 489

Peter Trepan writes "Like most Americans, I made it through high-school and college without a thorough understanding of major scientific and mathematical concepts. I'm trying to remedy this situation both for personal betterment and so I can supplement my *own* kids' education. The problem is, most textbooks are not designed to convey an understanding of the subject, but to squeeze in all the 'facts' required by state law. I'm looking for books that don't just tell me an equation or a concept works, but also explain *why*. Would you please list books that have helped you gain a greater understanding of the basic concepts of algebra, chemistry, calculus, physics, and other core areas of science?" This is similar to an earlier question, but with a broader focus.
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Science and Math For Adults?

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  • books... (Score:5, Informative)

    by Yodason ( 526266 ) on Saturday August 02, 2003 @06:33PM (#6596992)
    Feynman has 6 easy/not so easy peices on physics... I enjoyed those. On A whole I will recomend any of his books... Math I'm not sure... I'd like to try and find a math book (that teaches you as much as a text book) thats not as dry as one... For calculus for the easy stuff Learn Calculus the easy way is a interesting concept, its taught through a story.
    • Re:books... (Score:5, Informative)

      by bmwm3nut ( 556681 ) on Saturday August 02, 2003 @06:48PM (#6597063)
      6 easy pieces is cut from the full "feynman lectures on physics." this is a great series of books. unfortunately they're quite expensive, but they are lectures that feynman gave to an incoming group of physics majors at cal tech, so they start of very basic. if you're looking to get just a basic understanding of physics and a little chemistry and biology thrown in for fun, try reading volume 1 of the lectures. volumes 2 and 3, while great references for physists are probably not great if you're just trying to understand concepts. but if you have the money, there's no reason not to buy the whole set. and as the parent said, all of feynman's books are great (beware, some of them are high level graduate level books). i also recommend the feynman lectures on computing.
      • Re:books... (Score:5, Insightful)

        by cybermace5 ( 446439 ) <> on Saturday August 02, 2003 @09:35PM (#6597719) Homepage Journal
        I just wanted to reply concerning the cost issue. If you find something you think will work, and can learn easily from it, it's worth the price. You'd be surprised what a good foundation of scientific principles can do for you, at work and at home.

        It's not only the facts you know about things; those give you the ability to carry on a discussion with a specialist in any given field. It's also the process of discovery and fact-checking. Every time you work a problem, or follow the progression of a historical great discovery, you teach yourself how to apply your natural curiosity in a productive way. Invaluable.
    • Re:books... (Score:5, Informative)

      by MuParadigm ( 687680 ) <> on Saturday August 02, 2003 @07:09PM (#6597154) Homepage Journal
      I like the Feynman books as well, but I'd start with "Surely, You're Joking Mr. Feyman" first. The reason I say that, especially if you want to share them with your kids - I'm assuming they're about adolescent in age - is that I find it's easier to develop an understanding in these subjects by hearing stories in them first, then moving on to more theory-oriented works.

      For math, I'd recommend:

      G. H. Hardy - A Mathemetician's Apology
      E. T. Bell - Men of Mathematics (some people have problems with this book in terms of historical accuracy, but I'v always found it a lot of fun)
      Courant & Robbins - What is Mathematics? (nice grounding in general theory)
      Nagel & Newman - Godel's Proof
      Georg Cantor - Transfinite Numbers
      Alan Turing - On the Computable Numbers (fantastic essay, don't know where you can find it though)
      J. E. Thompson - Algebra / Calculus for the Practical Man
      Silvanus Thompson & Martin Gardner - Calculus Made Easy

      For physics:

      Feynman - QED (Quantum Electrodynamics)/ The Character of Physical Law
      Galileo - Two New Sciences (Much more readable than you'd think)
      Fermi - Thermodynamics / Elementary Particles (these might be a little too technical)
      Brian Greene - The Elegant Universe
      Einstein - Relativity / The Principle of Relativity / The Meaning of Relativity / The Theory Of Brownian Movemnent

      Highly Unrecommended:

      The Tao of Physics - Fritjof Capra
      The Dancing Wu-Li Masters - Gary Zukav

      I cannot emphasize enough how lousy these last two books are. I can't understand why they are still in print. Atrocious new age speculation.

      • Re:books... (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Hatta ( 162192 )
        I'd add to the math list: 1, 2, 3... Infinity. by George Gamow. Also to the physics list: Einsteins Theory of Relativity by Max Born. A wonderful primer on relativity using nothing more than HS algebra.
  • math: (Score:5, Informative)

    by Pandora's Vox ( 231969 ) on Saturday August 02, 2003 @06:35PM (#6597002) Homepage Journal
    zero, the biography of a dangerous idea by charles seife (sp?)

    the god particle, by leon lederman

    the particle garden, by someone whose name i can't remember.

    good math and good physics. enjoy!

  • by Anonymous Coward
    Try enrolling in some night classes at your local Community College if you have the time. It's pretty cheap, and you may be able to get your employer to pay for it.

    • I'm in community college, let me tell you that this wont help, the reason why it wont help is because the goal will still be to get a good grade, pass your tests, and learn the knowledge you need to do this.

      Now, if you can find a class which ISNT graded, then yes its a good idea, and I'll take math as long as it doesnt ruin my GPA if I do bad.

      Otherwise I'm just going to avoid calculus, and all that crap so I can have a GPA over 3.0.
      • Re:That doesnt help (Score:3, Informative)

        by dcollins ( 135727 )
        Okay, I'm going to overlook the fact that the primary poster of the thread is pursuing personal edification, and not a particular educational track, so the fact that grades are given doesn't seem to be a relevant concern in his case.

        Let me see if I can be helpful in this sub-thread. I'm an adjunct faculty member at a community college, I've taught for going on two years now. I'll speculate that I'm teaching in the same region you're going to school, based on the 4-year institutions you're looking at.

        If I
  • Hawking (Score:4, Informative)

    by endquotedotcom ( 557632 ) on Saturday August 02, 2003 @06:37PM (#6597016) Homepage
    Stephen Hawking's "Universe in a Nutshell" is a good start on physics and relativity. I've never taken any physics and was able to understand it fairly well.
    • Re:Hawking (Score:2, Informative)

      by Nolambar ( 315562 )
      I've tried to read "Universe in a Nutshell" but the first two chapters were dificult to me.

      Then i readed "A brief story of Time" and it's easier. I recomend it to introduce yourself into this "new" kind of physics, and then you can read the Universe in a Nutshell.

      If you want to study physics, i recomendo you to see the book from R. Serway. It's a little bit complex if you don't know calculus (derivates and integrals) but it's good in concepts and examples. I use it and i don't have yet any course of calcu
  • Calculus Made Easy (Score:5, Informative)

    by DarkVein ( 5418 ) on Saturday August 02, 2003 @06:38PM (#6597020) Journal
    Calculus Made Easy by Silvanus P. Thompson and Martin Gardner. This is exactly the sort of book you're looking for, in the subject of Calculus. To quote from the preface, on the subject of modern math textbooks: Their exercises have, as one mathematician recently put it, "the dignity of solving crossword puzzles." The purpose of this book is to explain the philosophy of Calculus, and teach you how to differentiate and integrate simple functions. I recommend reading the Preface in a bookstore, skimming the first few chapters. I think you'll like it.
    • What a wonderful price too, I can really use this book.

      Now I must admit my algebra skills on the upper level (linear algebra and upper level algebra) is kinda weak.

      Hopefully this book will teach me calculus without forcing me to memorize hundreds of formulas.

    • by John Jorsett ( 171560 ) on Saturday August 02, 2003 @08:21PM (#6597451)
      I confess that I made it through 3 semesters of college calculus and an engineering degree pretty much not understanding the underlying concepts of calculus. It's surprising what you can accomplish by rote. This book was a real forehead-slapper for me, and I can't recommend it highly enough. Many years after graduating, I've finally learned what I should have back then. If it were up to me, this would be the first book anyone learning calculus ever read. I wish Sylvanus Thompson were still alive (I think Calculus Made Easy was published in 1919) so I could give him a big smooch.
    • by cquark ( 246669 )
      For a literate and entertaining look at the concepts of calculus, I highly recommend David Berlinski's A Tour of the Calculus. It won't teach you how to solve problems, but it will teach you the concepts behind limits, differentiation, and integration along with the important theorems and their proofs.
  • Infinity (Score:5, Informative)

    by rf0 ( 159958 ) <> on Saturday August 02, 2003 @06:38PM (#6597025) Homepage
    One article that I found interesting A Guide to Infinity []

  • Isaac Asimov (Score:5, Informative)

    by Esion Modnar ( 632431 ) on Saturday August 02, 2003 @06:39PM (#6597026)
    Any of his non-fiction books, and there's a ton. All subjects, from algebra to the brain to chemistry. (He even wrote about the Bible...)
    • Any of his non-fiction books, and there's a ton. All subjects, from algebra to the brain to chemistry. (He even wrote about the Bible...)

      As an avid Asimov fan (fiction and non-fiction) I concur - his science books are fascinating.

      They would make great ebooks - especially since most are collections of short essays. I suggested that to one ebook vendor of his SF stories, and they said they'd look into it. Never saw them offer them, however. Guess I'll have to dig up my old paperbacks hen i get home.
  • ArsDigita University (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday August 02, 2003 @06:39PM (#6597027)
    You might check out some of the materials on display at ArsDigita University [], they have lectures online and a critique of each course, together with a list of texts...personally, Sispser's text for Theory of Computation was very helpful in explaining a lot of the higher-level CS Math.
  • Math texts (Score:5, Insightful)

    by plalonde2 ( 527372 ) on Saturday August 02, 2003 @06:39PM (#6597029)
    Math texts rarely manage to give insight into what's going on at a level sufficient to solve problems. The reason is that it's hard to get the insight until you understand the mechanics, and hard to want to get the mechanics without an understand - a nasty education catch-22.

    The solution that most math texts take then is to give you *lots* of problems/drills so that the mechanics get ingrained, allowing the insight to come later.

    When I screwed up my second year calculus course *really* badly (like 6% on the midterm...) I used a Schaum's Outline to get back on track (and eventually ace the final). It's main benefit is *heaps* of problems to work through. That made me a convert to the problems approach to math teaching.

    The key is to do all the problems, in order.

    That said, I can't really recommend one math text over another, just so long as there are lots of problems, and hopefully a solution key in the back for at least half the excercises.

    • I disagree. (Score:4, Informative)

      by bgalehouse ( 182357 ) on Saturday August 02, 2003 @07:47PM (#6597314)
      I could never do that. I need the explanation of why and always have. Quite frankly, I can't be bothered to learn facts without understanding. Furthermore, I claim that this need to understand relationships is absolutly key to being a scientist or mathematician.

      Real math involves proofs. In fact, for mathematicians that is the definition of mathematics. The rest is "just" application. Since the original poster is complaining about the lack of explanation why, I suggest that he look into proofs and other creative aspects of real mathmatics. If you haven't learned that math is a creative art you haven't learned jack. Ok, so I'm opinionated, but this is slashdot and what else is new.

      Anyway I suggest that anybody of any age interested in math check out equations and wff-n-proof from the wff-n-proof people [].

      Regarding books, he had a vague request so I'll make some vague suggestions. Springer Verlag publishes lots of great mathbooks, as well as quite a few not so great. Some of them I can even read, and they do have a some series and books advertised for undergraduates. Look for yellow in any self respecting University library or technical bookstore.

      Actually, going through a university library or bookstore is probably the best advice I can give under the teach a man to fish philosophy. Learning to go through a stack and pick out books that are readable but challenging is basically the secret to scholarhood. That and faith in the fact that once you've ground through one the rest will be a smidgen easier.

      Oh, and you can also check out the math section of Cononical Tomes [] I made a few contributions when it first started, and would assume that it has only grown.

      • Re:I disagree. (Score:3, Insightful)

        I could never do that. I need the explanation of why and always have.
        I doubt that. Ever learn to eat? Or walk? =)

        I'll acknowledge that you are much more motivated to learn the WHAT if you've a notion that a WHY will follow, but I'd suggest that you CAN'T learn the why without first learning the what. For 1776, the United States declared its independence from England. Why, you ask? It's impossible to explain WHY without first explaining WHAT occurred in the years leading up to 1776. I'm not sa
    • Re:Math texts (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Monkelectric ( 546685 ) <slashdot@monkelectric . c om> on Saturday August 02, 2003 @07:53PM (#6597337)
      I can't speak to high school, but at my university courses like calculus, physics and chemistry were "flunk courses". Courses designed to fail a maximum number of students. The professors had *NO* interest in making the subject interesting or accessable. As a whole the university (UCR) had a graduation rate of 60%, whereas the engineering college had an horrific graduation rate of 30%.

      There are several reasons for wanting to fail students, the most frequently mentioned is that theres "not enough room" in the upper courses. But the real reason is they are simply elitist bastards, they figure, "I had to go through it, you do to." The worst abuse I ever saw was a chemistry course I was in. 250 Students, the teacher spent the entire quarter lecturing about the heart medicine he was working on, and how steel refineries worked (his other interest). No problem -- if the tests are on heart medicines and steel production, but, he gave standardized tests and flunked 90% of the class.

      Flunk courses also create some strange strange acedemic relationships. For instance, I was getting 15s and 16s (out of 100) on my physics tests and, with the curve I was getting a nice fat C. The problem with this is two fold ... It sounds great right? get a 15 and get a C? First problem, I'm not getting the education I paid for. Secondly, it encourages cheating because all you have to do is "beat the curve". The thrid and most intriguing problem deserves its own paragraph.

      For me to get a C with 15 out of 100 points. That means, about HALF of the students scored worse then me. The students who scored WORSE then me *financed* my C by getting D's and F's. If they weren't the cannon fodder, *I* would have failed the course. Now here's where things get tricky. Sometimes, you are the sacrifical lamb, and sometimes you are the priest. If you are the lamb, you take the course over -- but this time you're the priest because you've taken the course before and it's finally starting to make sense. So the first timers are competing on a curve with people who have taken the course before. This wouldn't be a problem with a normal distribution of scores, but with poor instruction causing scores to center around 15%, that advantadge *REALLY* counts.

      So now that I've written a diseratation here, what I really mean is, in your post you assume that mathbooks are even designed to help students, when most of the time, they aren't.

      • Re:Math texts (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Maul ( 83993 )
        I took a physics course at UCSD in a similar vein. The mean wasn't quite as bad, though as 30-35% was the average on most quizzes. The professor often went out on tangents, etc. and deferred all questions to his T.A., who was just as disinterested in teaching a bunch of Freshmen and Sophomores.

        I got a B in the class, something which was difficult to comprehend considering that I never got above a 50% on any of the tests.

        Looking back, though, it just depends on the prof. I took other physics classes whe
    • Re:Math texts (Score:3, Insightful)

      by drlock ( 210002 )
      The reason is that it's hard to get the insight until you understand the mechanics

      I agree, I just finished 3 years of college level Calculus and Differential Equations. I found that I didn't really get Calc I until I was in Calc II and it didn't all come together until Calc III. Grade wise I did great in all three, but the 'why' of it all took a while to build. The more you use/practice it the more you will begin to connect the concepts and really understand.

      All that said, don't be discouraged fro
  • by dydxjessedydt ( 590130 ) on Saturday August 02, 2003 @06:41PM (#6597039)
    "Foudations of Mathematics" by Denbow and Goedicke (old, but an amazing book for the understanding of most math concepts) "Mathematical Sorcery" by Clawson (More of a "evolution of modern math concepts")
  • They really are.
    One option is to ask someone who knows better, in HS my math teacher was always looking for books that explained it better.

    Find a topic, and pursue it, the local public/college/university library should have some decent books available for details.
    Also check the used bookstores, read the book a bit, many professors try to find the best book to explain the concepts. Used outdated books a revision behind tend to have the same quality, and the same information, just new page numbers and diagra
  • you know, come to think about it. this could very well be the reason why I absolutely sucked at math but did exceptionally well in other subjects in school and today? I've allways been the type to understand something as long as it was easily explained to me. With math I always understood it in class but an hour later trying to do the homework completely a noob again. Been accused of being a slacker and all, and spend days totally studying math and still cannot get it.
    • Well, if you're anything like me, I generally found math very frustrating and difficult, largely because there's so much memorization involved - and then to compound things, all the practice exercises don't give me much sense of reward or accomplishment.

      I'm not very good at memorizing things anyway. (I can't even imagine having to work as an actor or actress for a living, for example - unless I was only given bit parts.) With math, you can spend so much time and effort scribbling down rows and columns of
  • I've always found it easier to learn something when I know the history of how/ it was developed.

    For math, I can definitely recommend "A History of Mathematics" by Carl Boyer

    For Physics I would recommend the Feynman lectures highly. In these, he mixes theoretical development with modern application.

    Not sure what to tell you about chemistry or other sciences!

  • Most Universities... (Score:3, Informative)

    by OS24Ever ( 245667 ) * <> on Saturday August 02, 2003 @06:44PM (#6597047) Homepage Journal
    ...teach some form of 'Math 002' or Science 101 of some kind. Find your local university and see if they have a weekend/evening program (if you're working) and then go to it, work hard. reading books for betterment is a good thing too, but sometimes it helps to have someone to talk to about it.
  • What is Mathematics? (Score:3, Informative)

    by Monkey-Man2000 ( 603495 ) on Saturday August 02, 2003 @06:44PM (#6597048)
    I just got a copy of this and it seems really good so far. It also got good reviews on Amazon [].
  • by CBNobi ( 141146 ) on Saturday August 02, 2003 @06:44PM (#6597050)
    There are "for Dummies" books that cover many of the topics you've listed. I was never fond of them, but you may want to take a look at them.

    The biggest problem when you're undertaking a self-study endeavour is that most books that are available are either
    - Very specialized topics (What does pi mean?)
    - Refresher-course books (Lots of problems, few explanations)

    The specialized topics books - commonly reviewed in magazines such as Scientific American [] - are fun to read, but I'm not sure if they serve the purpose of what you're seeking.

    How much of algebra do you know? If you can look through the table of contents of a textbook for Algebra I and II and are confident in all the topics, then I'd move on to geometry/trigonometry before calculus.

    Also, keep in mind that conceptual physics texts are divided between algebra-based and calculus-based reasoning. Take whichever you're more comfortable with.

    Some 'refresher-course' books that will come in handy with the conceptual books that others may suggest:
    Schaum's Outlines []
    Research & Education Association's Problem Solvers series []
    CliffsNotes [] and SparkNotes []
  • by SuperBanana ( 662181 ) on Saturday August 02, 2003 @06:45PM (#6597052)
    The problem is, most textbooks are not designed to convey an understanding of the subject, but to squeeze in all the 'facts' required by state law.

    The problem is, most textbooks are designed to be companion references, with all the 'facts' squeezed in so the teacher can spend time helping everyone understand the concepts etc. The two work together.

    Simple answer is, you need to take adult education classes. I left college barely half-way through, and ended up taking night classes- intro to calculus was one; another was an intensive Economics class. I found them worthwhile; I probably would have enjoyed the class more if I wasn't young enough to be most of the other student's kid(you would fit in FAR better, from the sounds of it.)

    Without the classes, you don't get the benefits of peer learning, in-class interaction("Did everybody get that?" [blank stares] "Heh, ok, let me explain it a different way...") the discipline that testing creates, nor the resource of having a Really Smart Person(professor) to go to when you need help. There are also other benefits- making friends(you're probably all in similar 'boats' so to speak, so people socialize pretty readily), and networking. My old boss decided to do part-time classes for an MBA, and got a lot of networking out of it(granted, those were business classes, more prone to networking activities, but you get the idea).

  • The Mathematical Universe:

    by William Dunham

    It was the first math book I read in high school and I loved it. It is available for $19.95 at [] It covers a broad area of mathematics with 26 chapters from Arithmatic to Z(The complex plane). Along the way it talks about Riemann, Newton, Euler, Gauss, and many others. Also, it talks about some of the famous problems. Great book.
  • "Mathematics for the Million" by Hogben, Lancelot.

    Note that it is not ".. for the Million s "
  • by UniverseIsADoughnut ( 170909 ) on Saturday August 02, 2003 @06:50PM (#6597069)
    Go to the nearest university book store, or even just find the web page for a universities math department and find the text book for the subjects you want and order it online.

    I don't think very many text books just give you a equation and say use this. My HS was a poor ass sucky redneck school and didn't do that, we just didn't have much of a variety in subjects. Also I think saying books just do what the states require only applies to states with said systems. Many, maybe most, just say you need to have a class in this that and the other thing.

    Also once you get into learning the hows and whys of lots of math you will see why people tend to just want the equation, far less frustrating and confusing for learning. Learning how to do it and then going back for the why is often better for subjects like math. Same for say engineer, it seams a whole lot more fun till your actualy doing it and find out 99% of it sucks big time and is not what you think engineers do.

    One book to stay away from if calc. is you game is Thomas Finny, that book sucks beyond belief.

  • It's certainly not about the "fundamentals" of math and science, but I have to say that the book that did the best at explaining physics and cosmology to a humanities geek like me was *A Brief History of Time*. Hawking filled it with simple explanations and allegory, and in the tradition of *Flatland* managed to explain hard-to-grasp concepts to everyone.

    It won't help you learn "the basics" in terms of math and science, but if you want to understand the theory behind complicated cosmological principles, I
  • If you're still concerned with algebra, this won't come in handy until later in your studies.

    Keep in mind that during the 80s-90s (I think), there was a revolution of sorts in the way calculus was taught in colleges. Professors supporting this reform movement [] wanted students to understand the concepts instead of memorizing the formulas.

    Sounds good, right? Only in concept (no pun intended).

    To truly appreciate this reform, you'd need to take classes where this curriculum is being used. Just picking up a te
    • "Keep in mind that during the 80s-90s (I think), there was a revolution of sorts in the way calculus was taught in colleges. Professors supporting this reform movement wanted students to understand the concepts instead of memorizing the formulas."

      The concept of "new math", and the resultant ill effect on thousands of mathematics students, was a corruption of some really good ideas. There's no doubt that some bureaucracy was at fault in this madness. They took the idea that mathematics students should not o
  • Relativity Visualized

    by Lewis Carroll Epstein.
    (ISBN 0-935218-05-X)

    This guy explains relativity concepts and the ideas behind those concepts without making you understand eight yards of derivative calculus. The theories are presented in a visual style so that even a novice, unitiated reader can get them. He then goes on to explain the consequences of those theories and details how they effect the universe, again with the unitiated reader in mind.
  • Feynman introduced his sister to astronomy by giving her a college text and telling her to read from the begining till she couldn't understand what was going on, then start from the begining again. (I think this was in his "What do you care..." book.)

    I ran across a number of softcover books in the mid 80s that were basically stories where the protaganist was dropped on an island with amnisia, and he had to help the islanders (or countryman) solve various problems that ultimately involved most of the major
    • A Tour of the Calculus is a particularly comendable book. It only covers the more basic tenants and theorems of Calculus, but gives you an immense sense of the power behind such theorems and of the near-glacial process which has formed them and the calculus as a whole. Reading it gave me a much deeper understanding of the particular topics it covered, as well as the Calculus and math in general.
  • None as far as I know in Calculus (it is usually too engineering oriented), not even think of algebra. Numerical methods - ROFL. So on so forth. If there are any readable ones they are by physicists..

    Still, one exemption comes to mind. It is the finest textbook of all in probability theory. Feller. Note - it is probability theory and applications. No fscking statistics. Amazon has it .

    In btw, when reading the rant in the introduction keep in mind the emphasis which in the US (and some other countries) i

  • by bons ( 119581 ) on Saturday August 02, 2003 @07:02PM (#6597118) Homepage Journal
    A list of his books []

    Since what you're looking for is about as broad as the universe, I figured I'd point you to the man who set me straight back in 8th grade. Godel, Escher, Bach not only taught me much about the arts, sciences, and mathematics, but it rekindled a passion for learning that the education system had done it's best to beat to a pulp. And that's a passion I still have today thanks to him.
  • by erroneus ( 253617 ) on Saturday August 02, 2003 @07:02PM (#6597119) Homepage
    ...and very little from the books.

    I suppose it depends on the type of learner you are, but frankly, I imagine seeing and using the information being delivered to me. Rather than simply "knowing" the things I learned, I understood them and used what I learned to add more peices to the puzzle I call "reality."

    In more simple terms, everything you (should have) learned should be assimilated into the way you operate within your environment. Ever heard "you use it or you lose it"? There's a lot of truth to that.

    Rather than try to get what you missed from books, perhaps it's time to make a much more grand display by going back to school. It doesn't have to be thought of as "remedial" but rather as a "brush-up" or simply continuing education. If you show your children that learning only ends when you die, their minds will be open for life with the expectation that they can grow and improve themselves at any point in their lives... not just during the beginning phases. By the time they reach it, "middle aged" will be 50-something anyway.

    Best advice? Go back to school and pay attention this time.
    • This comment raises a good point -- different people learn things differently. Some do well by reading, some do better if they can listen. What situation fits you best? While I can learn and have learned math strictly from a textbook, I find that it is easier when I can listen to someone doing the explanation while I look at the figures and/or equations. If you're a person who needs to listen, definitely look into a local community college. Try to find out about the instructor first, though -- I've se

  • Mastering Technical mathematics, by Norman Crowhurst A Tour of the Calculus, by David Berlinski The Calculus Tutoring Book, IEEE The Feynman Lectures in Physics (3 vols), Richard P. Feynman Asimov on Chemistry, Asimov on Physics, by Isaac Asimov e - The Story of a Number, by Eli Maor I didn't get much education in high school, and ended up supplementing many college textbooks with the books above, among others. For Calculus, there is a book called "The Concept of Limits" that is an excellent guide to

  • I need something like this as well, my math sucks.

    Why dont some of you open source programmer geniuses write some math E-Software?
  • Not only a good book, but so useful that you'll be applying it the next time you open a newspaper: How To Lie With Statistics [] by by Darrell Huff. Please, do yourself a favor and at least read the reviews on Amazon.

    • I had a similar problem with stats and the author of my stats package recommended MJ Moroney's "Facts from Figures" (details []) [Pelican/Penguin, London, ISBN 0-14-020236-6, originally 1951 but reprinted a gazillion times]. Huff's book is excellent but Moroney's is the classical book on stats for the non-statistician.
  • I have found this book to be very helpful. It covers a very broad array of topics: linear algebra, trigonometry, calculus, complex analysis, differential equations, statistics .... There are numerous engineering related examples and problems so that you can get an idea of the applicable domain of each subject. I think there would be something in this book for readers from high school level through graduate school.
  • John Allen Paulos (Score:3, Informative)

    by kurosawdust ( 654754 ) on Saturday August 02, 2003 @07:07PM (#6597149)
    I hope I spelled his name correctly - read his books Innumeracy and Beyond Numeracy, excellent introductions to practical mathematics and advanced mathematics, respectively. I tutored math in college, and by *far* the best way I have found to explain calculus to students who "just don't get it" is using Paulos's "driving on the turnpike" analogy.
  • Interestingly enough, there's a remaindered book by Berlinski called, 'the advent of the algorhythm' which I found very helpful.

    Although its main concern is mathematical logic, Berlinski's explanations of the thought behind the numbers is a nice thing to have. His book makes you think about numbers--about what a numbers really are and how they work.

    The book's actual math is broken up by sections of very well-written prose that offer relief when the mathematical ideas leave you feeling hollowed-out and bra
  • If you're looking to answers to the question "why?" it shouldn't suprise you that you're not alone. Since the beginning of time and throughout the ages, the human mind has confronted the same questions. My best advice is to read the original thinkers, the ones who first came to an understanding of whatever subject matter you pursue, as this is closer to the natural course of human understanding (in opposition to the textbook fact-collection approach which you mention.) The Thomas Aquinas College curricul []
  • Dover Publications [] is a great resource for cheap books. Dover has made a great reputation for themselves taking out of print books and putting them back into publication. If you are looking for Science and Mathematics knowledge that is not cutting-edge stuff, I'll bet there are dozens of books with more information that you'll ever need in Dover's Science and Mathematics [] section.

    Most Dover publications are available directly through Barnes & Noble [] and Amazon [].

  • The mathematical/physics books put out by Dover Books are decent. They give you a good overview and background of the subject. The subjects range from Number Theory, Information Theory, Magnetism, Mathematics, Physics, Probablility,etc.

    In each book, there is a bibliography of the sources that it used, in case you want to do additional research on the subject.

    As an added bonus, each book is less than $15, and they can be picked up at any Barnes & Noble. So its worth picking up to see if you are int

    • The mathematical/physics books put out by Dover Books are decent. They give you a good overview and background of the subject. The subjects range from Number Theory, Information Theory, Magnetism, Mathematics, Physics, Probablility,etc.

      The Dover books are usually inexpensive, and some are good references. As a text for the non-mathematician, they're probably inappropriate. What they do cover is usually in depth but also don't pull punches. For example, the opening chapter of "Modern Algebra" jumps directl
  • honestly, if you do end up buying a text book, i'd buy a college text book, because with the exception of the text books i used in my ap classes (which were all college text books), my high school text books universally sucked hairy goat testicles.

    better yet, if there's a college nearby, why not see about taking a "101" class or two as an extended studies student... many employers have plans set up for continuing education, so it may even be cheap for you ;-)

    just my $1/50
  • My favorites (Score:3, Interesting)

    by digitalhermit ( 113459 ) on Saturday August 02, 2003 @07:23PM (#6597212) Homepage
    I'm looking for books that don't just tell me an equation or a concept works, but also explain *why*. Would you please list books that have helped you gain a greater understanding of the basic concepts of algebra, chemistry, calculus, physics, and other core areas of science.

    This is broad. My own list that you might find useful (or not):

    algebra -- a good introduction is Earl Swokowski's "Fundamentals of Algebra and Trigonometry". It's often available in used book stores, campus book sales, etc.. It is a text book, though, and you may or may not enjoy this method of learning. If you want more of an overview of math, take a look at Paulos' "Innumeracy". If you want some lighter reading, try stuff by Martin Gardner.

    calculus -- builds upon algebra so you need to know your algebra, especially limits, before you tackle calc. Know the limits well because it will help in many ways. I often refer to Elliot Gootmans' "Calculus" from Barron. For fun, also try "A Tour of the Calculus". Many chapters in "A History of Pi" are interesting (and approachable) also. Stay away from the Dover books until you have a pretty good grasp. They're cheap, but their approach is sometimes a little heavy-handed.

    physics -- Feynman's "Six Easy Pieces".

    For general reading, also try:
    Godel, Escher, Bach (Douglas Hofstadter)
    Islands of Truth (??Ivars Peterson??)

    BTW, I'm a big proponent of using mathematics software as an addition to traditional study. There are programs such as MuPAD, GnuPLOT, Octave and Maxima that are available for free that can really help in the understanding of concepts. Many people are more visual so a graph is eminently useful.
  • If you want a general and very accessible introduction to relativity, time, etc. in terms of physics, you might want to check out Stephen Hawking's excellent books A Brief History of Time and The Universe in a Nutshell. He explains the basic history and principles in various areas of physics, and goes into theoretical stuff like why time is pear-shaped, etc. Some of it is pretty out there, but the style of writing is very enjoyable and you can get a lot out of both books. They're a lot of fun to read, and r

  • The Cambridge Guide to the Material Universe is a wonderful book describing what is the Physics and Chemistry of matter.

    Unfortunately what is covered in far too many popularizations of phyics is the high energy stuff that either very abstract or does not really pertain to common experience. Not so the material covered in this book.

  • by Not Quite Jake ( 315382 ) on Saturday August 02, 2003 @07:26PM (#6597225) Homepage
    The math program I was a part of in high school, at Whitney Young Magnet School in Chicago, was called IMP, or Integrated Mathematics program but it could have just as easily stood for Interactive Mathematics Program.
    Basically the way it was structured was that instead of the traditional math program where one learns algebra the first year, geometry the second, trig the third and then moves onto precal, we learned a litte bit of each every year.
    Furthermore, instead of them just shoving facts down our throat and saying here, memorize these (such as all the proofs from traditional geometry) we were actually guided along in discovering them for ourselves.
    Every problem was given to us in word problem format. Each unit, which represented a major concept such as the quadratic equation or some of that other stuff, was presented as one big word problemm and it was broken up into smaller pieces which slowly led up to the solution of the actual problem.
    So instead of coming out of it with simply memorizing the quadratic equation, pythagorean theorem, pi, geometric proofs and the like, we were actually able to discover these on our own.

    It's just too bad the teachers weren't all that great and the program didn't much fit into the "flash/bang" you need to know this information right now that most high school classes are based around. God forbid students actually understand and can apply the information they are learning.
    I also can't seem to recall who published the books we used but I'm sure a bit of googling can solve that.
    • The parent poster points to one of the few well-developed Mathematics textbook series that offer students a braod understanding of mathematics. If you are looking for a textbook series that actually let's you understand why the math works the way it does instead of just accepting it as truth, then I have one of two suggestions. Both of these series were actually rated as exemplary by the Untied States Department of Education.

      IMP: Integrated Mathematics Program. IMP (as the parent poster said) takes al
  • by Cordath ( 581672 ) on Saturday August 02, 2003 @07:28PM (#6597231)
    Douglas Hofstadter won a pulitzer for this little gem. This is a fantastic book to read for anyone remotely interested in the mathematical principles behind some of the more glamorous aspects of computing. Hofstadter's "Achilles & the Tortoise" dialogues are a frequently hilarious tribute to Lewis Carol that remain some of my most favorite things in print.

    If you're lacking a basic understanding of algebra then this book may be a tad over your head, but if you can get into it you will find it immensely rewarding.

    P.S. Algebra? ALGEBRA?!!?? You made it through college without algebra?
  • by Ninja Programmer ( 145252 ) on Saturday August 02, 2003 @07:42PM (#6597286) Homepage
    Given that you, yourself, are not very math/physics savvy, text books alone may not be enough. You might easily end up in a situation of the blind leading the blind when trying to help your kids. Understanding math/physics will often go beyond what any textbook can tell you. You might do a lot better from a person you can interact with who can see how well you are grasping a concept.

    If you literally want to go to the trouble of hiring a tutor, then you'd get him/her for your kids obviously, but I don't know what to recommend for adult education. Given the current economy I'm sure the tutor might be willing to help you out as well in a package deal. :)
  • by AdamHaun ( 43173 ) on Saturday August 02, 2003 @08:35PM (#6597499) Journal
    While I'm sure that the people recommending GEB and Hawking have your best interests at heart, they're answering the wrong question. If you want to learn math, you're going to have to start at the beginning and work your way up. "Popular" math and science books won't help you with the basics.

    What you'll want to do instead is what they do in school. Start with some basic number theory(nothing fancy, maybe just enough to know the difference between integer/real/rational/etc). After that, assuming you understand how to add, subtract, multiply, and divide, you're going to want to get into some basic algebra, then calculus, then geometry or whatever else you want. Unfortunately, I learned algebra way back in middle school so I don't have a textbook to name, but I do have some advice that applies at all levels:

    * Do the problems in the book. Then do some more. Then do even more, just for good measure. Some of the other posters have complained about doing problems. Ignore them. Nothing will give you a better feel for how algebra and calculus work than actualy *doing* them.

    * Understand each piece of information before you move on and how it relates to the whole. Any decent textbook should offer problems that use both new and previously gained knowledge. Make sure your textbook of choice has lots of examples and that those examples are worked out well. Never underestimate the value of a fully worked out problem. It may be worth it to get multiple textbooks, look them over, and then return the ones you don't want.

    * Be persistant. Children learn math by doing it every(other) day for years. You're an adult. You can learn faster and better, but that doesn't mean you get to be lazy. Do a bit every day, even if it's just working one or two problems. Daily practice will ingrain concepts in your brain and also make it easier to pick up a book and start on something new.

    * Don't get too formal. Wanting to know "why" is great, but "why" must often take a backseat to what is being learned. Often, the reason for doing something may not be obvious until you already know how to do it.

    * Have I mentioned doing problems?

    Now I do have one actual book to name, and that's:

    Calculus by Larson, Hostetler, and Edwards

    This book has tons of examples and illustrations, as well as excellent problems. It even features a two chapter algebra/pre-calc review!

    Some people have mentioned the calc book by Stewart. We use that book at my college, and given the number of people who seem to have problems with it I cannot recommend it for self-teaching.

    Good luck!
  • by photon317 ( 208409 ) on Saturday August 02, 2003 @08:59PM (#6597591)

    Mathematics for the Million - Lancelot Hogben
    ISBN: 0-393-31071-X
    (This ISBN is from a 1993 printing of the 4th (last I believe) edition, originally published in 1895. The first edition was circa 1862).

    This book is hands down one of the best adult math texts around, as shown by how it has endured over time. It covers all the practical branches of math one should know including calculus, and starts out at a very basic level. Throughout it explains the real meaning of the math, this is not a fact memorization book at all.

    Also, if you're further interested in calculus, I'd recommend:

    Calculus Made Easy - Silvanus P. Thompson and Martin Gardner
    ISBN: 0-312-18548-0
    (Original by Thompson was from 1851, the ISBN here is an updated version (by Martin Gardner) published in 1998).

    Covers (again, with real explanations, not memorization of facts) the real meaning and understanding of calculus, both differential and integral.
  • by lamz ( 60321 ) * on Saturday August 02, 2003 @09:01PM (#6597596) Homepage Journal
    I read Isaac Asimov's Realm of Algebra when I was in grade 6, and didn't learn anything beyond it until around grade 10. Actually, I didn't even finish reading Realm of Algebra -- if I did, who knows how many grades worth of math I would have learned in one sitting!

    Unfortunately, it is out of print, and has been for some time. I have seen people asking outrageous sums of money for it used, upwards of $300 U.S. This is truly a book that is crying out to be open-sourced/pirated. Maybe someone who owns one would scan it into a tidy little pdf or something. Do the same to Realm of Numbers too.
  • by NoData ( 9132 ) < minus author> on Saturday August 02, 2003 @09:04PM (#6597608)

    I have found Larry Gonick's "Cartoon Guides" charming, accurate (if sometimes kinda understandibly rushed), and very compelling. Gonick is most famous for his "Cartoon History of the Universe," but he also has a "Cartoon Guide to Physics" and a "Cartoon Guide to Statistics" among other science titles. It's perfect for the adult novice and the young student as well. The cartoons illustrate abstract concepts visually, while maintaining a great sense of humor and fun.
  • by danny ( 2658 ) on Saturday August 02, 2003 @09:53PM (#6597778) Homepage
    You might find my popular science book reviews [] useful.


  • by Sergeant Beavis ( 558225 ) on Saturday August 02, 2003 @10:54PM (#6597968) Homepage
    Barbara Lee Bleau Ph.D. are excellent books. I was in a similar situation in that I decided to go back to college at age 32. Being that I was educated in Louisiana (worst in the nation) I never was properly taught many math principles. I was very fortunate when friend pointed me to these books. Both book start under the assumption that your math understanding is at an elementary level (basic addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division.) It is a truly great teaching guide and workbook which was so successful for me that I passed the math placement test at The Univ. of North Texas and will be taking Pre-Calc this semester. As for physics, I have seen several great books recommended so far. I'm reading Dr. Hawking's book right now.
  • by MindNumbingOblivion ( 668443 ) on Saturday August 02, 2003 @11:01PM (#6597999)
    Physics: The Human Adventure, Gerald Holton and Stephen Brush
    Nice, historical look at how well known physical concepts of today were discovered.
    Physics for Scientists and Engineers, Paul Fishbane and Stephen Gasiorowicz

    First few chapters good if you have a basic knowledge of calculus. For the later chapters (ie, Electricity and Magnetism, basic quantum mechanics) good idea to have a calculus book handy, I reccomend
    Calculus: Early Transcendentals, James Stewart
    First chapter is a good review of algebra, precalculus, and analytical geometry. Through chapter 7, fairly straightforward. Chapter on sequences and series is kind of fuzzy, though it mostly makes sense.
    Hope this helps!
  • Need a good teacher (Score:3, Informative)

    by Dominic_Mazzoni ( 125164 ) * on Sunday August 03, 2003 @02:35AM (#6598654) Homepage
    The key to really mastering these subjects is to have a good teacher.

    By all means, get some of the books recommended by fellow Slashdot readers. I'm familiar with many of them and a lot of them are great.

    But at some point, no matter how good the books are, you'll get stuck on some point - and that's where you need to find a good teacher you can turn to. It doesn't have to be someone you see in person - someone you correspond with via email or over the phone would be fine.

    It doesn't have to be someone with any sort of credential - but ideally it should be someone who is either currently a student (studying math/science at a much higher level than you) or someone who uses these subjects in their work. The main key, though, is to find someone who really loves math/science, and someone who's really patient.

    I love helping people who really want to understand math or science. It gets old fast if the person just wants to know how to get the right answer and doesn't care why. If they really care, and they're really patient enough to take the time to learn it really well, then I'm always more than happy to take the time to help. It's fun! I really love it when the light bulb comes on in somebody's head! (Feel free to email me - I'm great with Trig, Calc, & Discrete Math.)

    How to tell a good student: The bad student asks, "how do you solve this problem?", but the good student asks, "I tried to solve it this way, but it didn't work...why?"

    How to tell a good teacher: The bad teacher, in response to the good student's question above, responds, "that's the wrong way to solve it; here's the right way". The good teacher responds, "interesting approach - let's figure out why it didn't work".
  • Some suggestions (Score:3, Informative)

    by dlakelan ( 43245 ) <> on Sunday August 03, 2003 @12:59PM (#6600439) Homepage
    Hopefully someone will find these interesting:


    Quick Calculus by Kleppner and Ramsey.

    This book is designed to teach you step by step all the calculus you would learn in 2+ semesters of college calculus classes. It is workbook style. That is they teach you something and then have you work individual problems. I tought myself calculus in 10th grade by using this book.


    The Feynman Lectures on Physics:

    I've only read volume 1 but I have 2 and 3 queued up. These are good for getting an understanding of how and why physics works if you know a fair amount about calculus and you've taken some physics (high school at least). THESE WILL NOT teach you how to solve physics problems (as far as I can tell they don't publish the problem set anymore).

    Schaum's Outlines: Physics for Scientists and Engineers by Michael E Browne

    This one will give you practical problems to solve and practice with, plus a concise explanation of topics that Feynman blew past you too quickly.


    It's hard to recommend anything specifically here because it's a hard subject to teach and I've never found a great book.

    Principles of Statistics by M.G. Bulmer (dover)

    It's an inexpensive paperback and it gives a very good overview of the basic concepts of statistics.

    An introduction to error analysis by John R Taylor

    I haven't read this book but I've had it recommended. If you want to understand why you need to be skeptical of numerical data, you at least need to know something about this subject.

    Statistics for Experimenters by Box Hunter and Hunter

    This is another one that's supposed to be a great book. If you want to do experiments and analyze the results you need to study this subject.


    Mathematics books are often aweful, and what makes a good mathematics book is very personal (ie. your learning style), so here's a general list of subjects and why you should study them.

    Calculus and differential equations Without calculus you can't do physics effectively. see my recommendation for Quick Calculus above. Differential equations are effective for modelling the behavior of physical systems.

    Linear Algebra This topic forms the basis of several important fields, such as signal processing, statistics, differential equations, and much of numerical analysis.

    Topology This is a field that will teach you more about important properties of functions, and of sets. It's basically about invariance: properties that do not change when you transform something (continuously)

    Combinatorics or discrete math This is about counting, probability, and sequences of numbers. It's entertaining and important for computer science.


    The thing to know is that there is a huge variability in math books. I'd recommend starting with cheap Dover paperbacks and trying several in a particular field. Once you've exhausted those (either too poorly written or too complicated for you) at least you haven't spent a lot of money.

    If you need more after the Dover paperbacks, move on to something hardback and expensive but sit down in the book store and read through it first. Does the author take pains to explain things, or just use a flurry of symbols?

    Remember you can't start at the top. Work your way up a mathematical subject, preferrably with some application or core reason that drives you.

  • calculus (Score:3, Interesting)

    by aggieben ( 620937 ) <> on Sunday August 03, 2003 @07:00PM (#6602066) Homepage Journal
    I happen to like Stewart's Calculus with Vectors book. Covers from precalc (quick review) all the way through 3-d vector calculus. Lots of problems and decent examples. I used this book as an undergrad to learn calc, but even as a grad student I often find it invaluable as a reference.

"The pathology is to want control, not that you ever get it, because of course you never do." -- Gregory Bateson