Some book suggestions for a 14 year old who loves math

I saw this tweet from Aperiodical retweeted by Steven Strogatz this morning:

Thinking about book recommendations for a 14 year old interested in math was sort of fun, so I pulled a few books that we’ve used for projects (plus one or two more) off of our bookshelf.  Here are some that I think a kid interested in math would probably find interesting:

A wonderful mathematical coloring book from Alex Bellos and Edmund Harriss, we’ve done three projects from it already!

Fibonacci, Zome, and Patterns of the Universe

Patterns of the Universe Part 2

I found out about this book through one of Evelyn Lamb’s blog posts. It gives you a fascinating look at the various aspects of Egyptian mathematics – we did three projects from it that are all linked here:

Count Like an Egyptian Part 3

I assume this is the Matt Parker book that was referenced in the Aperiodical tweet. I just found it last week at the same time I found Patterns in the Universe:

It looks like a great way to introduce a kid to some fun ideas in math.

This book is one that you’d have to use more selectively with a younger kid because lots of the examples assume knowledge of Calculus. However not all do and there are some fantastic ideas that really show the power of mathematical thinking.

Zome Geometry combined with a Zometool building set opens up the world of 3d geometry to a kid in ways that are almost impossible to describe. I wish there was a cost-effective way to get the Zometool sets in the hands of every kid.

Here’s our latest Zometool project and there are probably 40 more on the blog.

Can you believe that a dodecahderon folds into a cube?

Patty Paper Geometry, like Zome Geometry, is an eye opener. I’ve never seen an approach to geometry (2d geometry in this case) like the one outlined in Serra’s book. Essentially an approach that simply involves tracing and folding figures allows idea after idea from geometry to fall right into your lap.

Really Big Numbers is a book for kids with some “really big” ideas hiding in the background. We used it for a neat project here:

A few project for kids from Richard Evan Schwartz’s “Really Big Numbers”

and Jim Propp did a nice review of the book here:

Jim Propp on “Really Big Numbers”

Keith Devlin’s book isn’t aimed at kids, but I think a kid interested in math will find it fascinating. It walks you through some of the most challenging unsolved (at least at the time of publication) problems in math today and is a great introduction to the ideas that mathematicians think are important.

Like “Street Fighting Mathematics”, not all of this book is going to be accessible to a 14 year old. Parts of it are, though, and those parts plus the incredible pictures might be incredibly inspirational to a kid who is interested in math. Here’s one project we based on Farriss’s ideas:

Frank Farriss’s Patterns

Tanton’s book is really hard to find, but if you do stumble on it you’ll find tons of clever math ideas, questions, and projects that should delight a kid interested in math. If you can’t find it – don’t worry too much, Tanton is an incredibly active writer and sharer of math. Just follow him on twitter – he’s inspired tons of our projects!

Our projects inspired by James Tanton

“Bridges to Infinity” was a gift from my high school math teacher when I was 15. It was my first introduction to math that was outside of traditional school math / math contest math. It was an amazing thing to read back in 1987 – I had no idea that the world this book describes even existed.

Pickover’s book is full of amazing ideas from 100’s of different areas of math. Each comes with a picture and a short, one-page explanation. Great fun to just flip through and if something catches your eye just hop on the internet to find out more. We’ve done many projects based on my kids asking questions about something they saw in this book. For example:

Banach Tarski, Hilbert curves, and Infinite sets


Counting Geometric Properties in 4 and 6 dimensions

These last three pics come from some fun books by Ivan Moscovich and Theoni Pappas. The books by these two authors should be on the shelf of any kids who are interested in math – they are absolutely wonderful.



4 Comments so far. Leave a comment below.
  1. How is Paul Lockhart’s masterpiece “Measurement” not on this list?

  2. I’ll reiterate what I said over at the Aperiodical site, because I think paradoxes are a fabulous way of leading young people into logic and math: Stanley Farlow’s “Paradoxes in Mathematics” (Dover, 2014) covers a lot of ground, yet is short & succinct enough to leave students wanting more!

    • There were some odd choices on their list – Spivak’s Calculus, Birth of a Theorem, and a few others. Though slogging for a 14 year old.

      They had a few I should have included, though. ingenuity in Mathematics, for example, is one I almost grabbed off the shelf. I forgot about How to Bake Pi because I have it on audiobook and so it wasn’t in front of me.

      I did order Knuth’s book after seeing their list, though.

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