Math Books Keeping and Reading

By Xah Lee. Date:

This page is some random personal notes on math books keeping and reading.

I moved into a new apartment this month.

Today, i'm fishing out some books to throw away. They are mostly math books. I haven't decided to discard the following books, but i make a list here just for the record.

Since about 2002, i've developed a habit to read from my computer screen. About more than half of my waking hours are spent reading, since about 1991. Since about 2002, perhaps 99% of readings i do are from my computer screen.

As far as content quality is concerned, i consider today's internet basically replaced most books of math subjects that are introductory, such as the books above. For example, there are quite a few textbooks in digital form on abstract algebra written by professors, free on the web. And, mostly, Wikipedia is full of quality info. For me, a major factor of preferring to read from Wikipedia is that i prefer to learn math by reading encyclopedia styled writings. Namely, topics are summarized, subject by subject, each explicated independently, from a general point of view of broader contexts, as opposed to drilling in details starting from definitions and accumulate into rather esoteric depth, as most subject-specific math textbooks are styled.

… the above books i bought in the early 1990s. I'm a info pack-rat, and covet books. Often, i spend inordinate amount of time to read about a book (i.e. reviews, research its quality, what people say, etc.) For many books, the time i spent on “researching” about a book is actually greater than the time i spent reading the book.

Then, i have a rather impractical and unhealthy need to buy the book (no longer since about 2003). Usually, a significant number of books i bought i've never read. About maybe 70% of them i've never read. I've never really read the above listed books. It's always on the to-do list. (However, this doesn't imply i buy books for the sake of buying. (I think there is a class of academic types who own books for the sake of owning, like a collector, which i despise) I buy books as a consequence of thirst of knowledge. Often, the amount of time i spent researching on books actually contributed to my learning of the subject significantly (albeit rather in a silly way).) When it comes to printed books, i'm rather a minimalist. In fact, for the past few years i've always tried to have all books in digital form (because i'm also a extreme efficiency and informatics nerd…).

I've already threw away about 10 books on mathematical logic in the process of moving. Too bad i didn't write down what they are. Here's more books i'm throwing away:

About classic books… There is a thought that when studying a subject, studying the book written by the master is one of the best approach. For example, if you want to study Relativity, study Eienstein's papers. If you want to study Calculus, study Newton's Principia. For logic, there's Haskell Curry and Alonzo Church, Willard Quine, …. I used to subscribe this thought somewhat. Because, after all, they are written by the masters themselfs where the subject originated. In a way, you get to see how they think. However, today i don't find much force in this line of thinking. First of all, knowledge are growing exponentially in the past decades. (in math circles, they say the book shelf width of math journals double every n years. (forgot what n is, i think under 10)) So, academic knowledge gets outdated quickly. Secondly, a great, original mathematician or scientist, are not necessary best expositors, and often are lousy expositors. In fact, the master's books are often the worst book to start to learn a subject. This can be practically seen as most textbooks used in educational institutions are not these classics. The classics are good for primarily historical, and reference purposes.