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Supplementary Reading (page 1 of 3)

Sections: Study helps and math reports, More math report options, Math biography, studying ahead, and math in literature

  • If you don't understand the textbook:

You might have one of those fashionable textbooks that doesn't actually teach math, which can be very confusing. If this is the case, you may have to look into getting your math elsewhere (another school, another section of the class, a tutor, etc.). But if you have a "normal" textbook that you just happen not to like very much, then you do have some options.


You can always get tutoring, but that can cost quite a bit, unless you go the free online route. On the other hand, you may be able to pick up a used algebra textbook for next to nothing.  Go to your local used-book store and take a look.

In addition, there are books such as Bob Miller's "Bob Miller's Algebra for the Clueless". This is not a textbook, in that the book is not divided into the sections that you're familiar with, nor does it contain lists of homework problems. But the book covers much of basic algebra, and contains clear, practical explanations, along with worked examples. The book is an affordable paperback.
Recommendation: high school, homeschool, or college students.

There are many supplemental books, such as the offerings provided by the "Cliffs Notes" people. Their Algebra I Quick Review and Algebra II Quick Review are user-friendly lesson books, intended generally for review of material that you have already studied. (Also available: Pre-Algebra and Pre-Calculus ) On the other hand, Algebra I Practice Pack and provide guided study through the use of practice problems. After testing yourself to see where you may have weaknesses, the books direct you to the specific extra practice you need to ensure that you are solid on everything before the test. (Also available: Pre-Algebra)
Recommendation: high school, homeschool, or college students.

Another supplemental option would be Schaum's Outlines. This series has a book for just about any topic; specifically, there are Outlines for Elementary Algebra, Intermediate Algebra, College Algebra, and Pre-Calculus. Schaum's Outlines are quite practical, containing concise explanations, clearly worked examples, and lots of practice with "typical" exercises. They're very affordable paperbacks, and may be used as textbooks.
Recommendation: high school, homeschool, or college students.

If you're having difficulty with only one area of algebra, then you're probably having trouble with word problems. For this, I can recommend Mildred Johnson's "How to Solve Word Problems in Algebra". It's a small paperback, divided into chapters according to the type of word problem. The explanations are good, and the mixture of problems (with worked solutions) is excellent.
Recommendation: high school, homeschool, or college students.

Please note that these are not the only math help books; they just happen to be the ones I've reviewed. You can probably find many other similar books at your local bookstore or online. If you follow one of the links above, will likely list quite a few similar books that you can look at. Be sure to read any reviews of the books you're considering, as these reviews may contain additional useful information which could help you decide what book to buy.


  • If you need to do a math report:

If you need to do a report strictly on math (as opposed to math people), then you have some interesting options.

I'm sure any instructor would be happy to see a report on any book by Keith Devlin, Ivars Peterson, or Theoni Pappas (do a search on their names to find quite a few titles), but there are some less-obvious options.
Recommendation: high school, homeschool, or college students

For instance, many of my students have enjoyed doing reports on Dava Sobel's "Longitude". This book records the story of the politics surrounding the search for the ability reliably to know one's position, particularly at sea.

Nowadays, what with the Global Positioning System (GPS), we just don't realize how dangerous travel used to be. It was fairly easy to tell how far north or south you were, as long as you knew what day of the year it was, because you could calculate your latitude from the angle of the sun above the horizon. But for east and west, people had a problem. Even now, when I'm trying not to get lost while driving somewhere, I can keep track of the direction I'm heading in if I know what time it is. If it's eight in the morning and my shadow is off to my left, then, since the sun is busy rising in the east, my shadow must be to the west, so I'm heading north. But if it's noon-ish, then the sun is in the south, so my shadow must be north, and I'm heading east. This only works on uncloudly days, of course, which is why you're well advised not to follow my car if you need to get somewhere.

But you can see the idea: you can tell where you are if you know the time, and, for longitude, they needed to know the time to within a very few seconds, or their old wooden boats could get hopelessly lost and they'd end up crashing somewhere that had no food or friendly natives. Then consider that the clocks at that time were powered by pendulums, which wouldn't work too well on a rocking boat, and you can see where they might have had a problem.

The quest for a solution, and the money-grubbing politics that went along with that quest, make for an interesting read. The mathematics is quite simple, and the book is well-written and fairly short.
Recommendation: high school, homeschool, or college students, or for personal pleasure.

Another book I really like is Petr Beckmann's "A History of Pi". There is a fair amount of math in this slim volume, but most of it is quite accessible. There is also a great deal of history and opinion. I think Mr. Beckmann was in a bad mood when he wrote this book, because he pretty much slams everybody (with particular venom reserved for the Roman and Soviet empires), which makes the book a lot of fun to read. If you're looking for something mathematical but very enjoyable, try this one.
Recommendation: homeschool or college students, or advanced high school students

There are some books that are similar, or rather, books that try to be similar, to "A History of Pi". But while they each cover some significant number or concept, they don't share the irrascibility of "A History of Pi". However, while they might not be nearly the fun that "A History of Pi" is, they are perfectly good material for book reports.

The first is "e: The Story of a Number", by Eli Maor. This book excels in its description of the development of logarithms and the gratitude with which the computational world accepted this new tool. The reading gets a bit difficult in the middle (it might help to wait to read this until you've taken trigonometry, and maybe some calculus), but the book wraps up with a clear synopsis in the last chapter. For the truly adventuresome, get a slide rule and learn how to use it. (Many are sold in online auctions, but specific sites are usually better and cheaper.) Slide rules are built on logarithms; their use vastly simplified calculations, something that most people in this era of cheap electronic calculators just cannot appreciate. If you need a big project (mathematical, historical, or cultural), get the slide rule, read this book, and expand your horizons.
Recommendation: advanced college students, homeschool students, or engineers and similar scientific types

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