A Wealth of Numbers

An Anthology of 500 Years of Popular Mathematics Writing

Despite what we may sometimes imagine, popular mathematics writing didn’t begin with Martin Gardner. In fact, it has a rich tradition stretching back hundreds of years. This entertaining and enlightening anthology – the first of its kind – gathers nearly one hundred fascinating selections from the past 500 years of popular math writing, bringing to life a little-known side of math history. Ranging from the late fifteenth to the late twentieth century, and drawing from books, newspapers, magazines, and websites, A Wealth of Numbers includes recreational, classroom, and work mathematics; mathematical histories and biographies; accounts of higher mathematics; explanations of mathematical instruments; discussions of how math should be taught and learned; reflections on the place of math in the world; and math in fiction and humor.

Featuring many tricks, games, problems, and puzzles, as well as much history and trivia, the selections include a sixteenth-century guide to making a horizontal sundial; ‘Newton for the Ladies’ (1739); Leonhard Euler on the idea of velocity (1760); ‘Mathematical Toys’ (1785); a poetic version of the rule of three (1792); ‘Lotteries and Mountebanks’ (1801); Lewis Carroll on the game of logic (1887); ‘Maps and Mazes’ (1892); ‘Einstein’s Real Achievement’ (1921); ‘Riddles in Mathematics’ (1945); ‘New Math for Parents’ (1966); and ‘PC Astronomy’ (1997). Organized by thematic chapters, each selection is placed in context by a brief introduction.

A unique window into the hidden history of popular mathematics, A Wealth of Numbers will provide many hours of fun and learning to anyone who loves popular mathematics and science.

A Wealth of Numbers is published by Princeton University Press.


‘[F]or the enthusiast for the history of popular maths writing this is a must-have book.’ Brian Clegg, Popular Science

‘In A Wealth of Numbers, we have the end product of what must have been a lot of challenging research. … This book works well for random browsing as well as for sustained reading; purely recreational essays and puzzle problems are well-mixed with more serious topics such as an article explaining Cantor’s diagonalization proof and “Cubic equations for the practical man.” There’s something in here for everyone, and it’s a great contribution to the mathematics literature to have it all in one place.’ Mark Bollman, MAA Reviews


‘This accessible and inviting anthology shows how entertaining it can be to think about mathematics. The selection, organization, and commentaries result in a unique book that is equal to far more than the sum of its parts.’ Paul C. Pasles, author of Benjamin Franklin’s Numbers