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talljasperman's avatar

Can I learn math by reading library books on the history of math?

Asked by talljasperman (21858points) June 12th, 2015

I’ve hit a wall in learning high school math and I’ve resorted to reading library books on math history as a hobby. I read the 2002 book Math Stuff by Theoni Pappas in one day. The local library has ten books on math and I wonder if it would help raise my grade twelve math grades if I read them all. Also why don’t public libraries have up to date textbooks on science and math?

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9 Answers

zenvelo's avatar

Reading a history of math can be interesting, to give you an insight how a mathematician was able to develop a principle and what insight he had to come up with a theorem. But it will not teach you how to solve problems using that theorem.

You might read about Newton and how he developed calculus. But you won’t learn how to solve for the area under a curve, or what the inflection point on a curve is, or what the rate of change is.

To learn that stuff, you need a course in which you learn the theorem and the mechanics of using it.

My best math teachers used the history of math in courses to introduce new concepts and topics, But it still required learning the math. It was great trying to solve the Seven Bridges of Konigsberg Problem, and then how Euler proved it impossible. But that was simply an introduction to topology and advanced mathematics.

Math does not progress very quickly, so that textbooks from 30 years ago are still relevant. Same with most introductory science texts. No need to go through the expense of having the latest edition text book that explains the Side-Angle-Side Theorem of Triangle Congruence.

jerv's avatar

While it is possible, not everyone can.

I personally didn’t do well at math directly, but rather I learned the math from doing whatever it was that I needed the math for. For instance, I didn’t get probability in math, but when I got into gaming and started rolling all sorts of dice (except d30) and learned the odds from there well enough to reverse-engineer the Battle Value system from BattleTech. And Physics taught me more about rearranging equations than Algebra ever did.

Many things that kids blow off in high school are blown off because kids don’t see them as applicable. It’s only when one sees what can be done with those lessons that they see why math is important.

@zenvelo Leibniz invented Calculus!

LostInParadise's avatar

I think that it makes mathematics more interesting to learn it in a historical context, but the history alone is not going to teach you the math. There is a story that the ruler of Egypt asked Euclid for an easy way to learn geometry and Euclid supposedly said, “There is no royal road to geometry.” Whether or not the story is true, the statement still holds. I did a Web search for a good introductory book on geometry. One book that came up was Geometry For Dummies. I do not mean to be condescending. I have found some of the books in the For Dummies series to be pretty good. You might want to give it a try.

ARE_you_kidding_me's avatar

Sitting and doing math or reading about math will not help you learn it. You need to apply it to really learn it.

Darth_Algar's avatar

If you don’t really apply math in your day-to-day life then you’re not really going to learn and understand it very well. That’s one of the reasons I’m absolutely terribly at math beyond the four basics – I’ve never had any real application for it in my life. And even at that I’m worse with division than I am with addition, subtraction and multiplication because I don’t utilize division nearly as often as the other three.

sahID's avatar

@jerv Yes, Leibnitz developed calculus in France at basically the same time as Newton did in England. However, because Newton’s symbols are so much easier to work with, they became the standard calculus notation system.

The major reason why public libraries don’t have up to date math & science textbook collections is cost. As an example, several years ago I bought a more recent edition of the calculus based Physics text I had used in the early 1990’s. Because it wasn’t the current edition I was able to find a copy for about $60. Its list price: about $220.

When it comes to math itself, the basic concepts don’t change much over time. So textbooks from the 70’s & 80’s are still perfectly useful as learning tools.

JLeslie's avatar

I think if you have trouble with math it’s very hard to learn it on your own.

I have never looked the Kahn Academy material over, but it is supposed to be great for learning math. Here is a link

jerv's avatar

@sahID There is side-plot about the Leibniz/Newton conflict in The Baroque Cycle by Neal Stephenson. Having read the whole thing (~3000 pages across three volumes) a few times, I couldn’t resist.

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