Reading list



So many people ask for book recommendations that I thought I'd write some down. This is not a complete list, just a random selection to help the kinds of people who usually ask me to recommend books. All of these books are well-written and among the very best I have come across. (Of course I haven't  read everything yet, nor do I intend to.) I have no financial stake in any of these books.


Applied Mathematics

Foundations of Applied Mathematics, Michael D. Greenberg, is wonderful, but sadly out of print. It covers all the basics that a Master's-educated applied mathematician should knowIf you steal the library copy, you will make enemies.

Advanced Mathematical Methods for Scientists and Engineers, C. Bender and S. Orszag. Pay attention to the word "advanced". It is full of very useful methods you won't find in Greenberg's book.

Nonlinear Dynamics and Chaos, Steven Strogatz. A textbook suitable for upper-level undergraduates or beginning graduates in applied mathematics. Dynamical systems approach to the study of differential equations. Excellent pedagogy, abundant examples, many many applied problems. I somehow think the word "bifurcations" should be in the title, since that's a major theme and possibly the most important topic for most people. The book is so comfortable with applications that we use it as the text for our first-year graduate course in biomathematics.

Numerical Methods for Engineers and Scientists, Joe Hoffman. So you got your feet wet with Numerical Recipes. How do you really do numerical work? The Hoffman book has a huge variety of methods, and it's very well organized and easy to follow. The best part is the hundreds of figures illustrating iterations, which let you easily compare algorithms.

Numerical Computation in Science and Engineering, C. Pozrikidis. Another excellent book on numerical methods. Very clearly written and well organized.

Introduction to Theoretical and Computational Fluid Dynamics, C. Pozrikidis. The beauty of this book is that it abandons the classical approach of derivation of exact solutions of the few linear or weakly nonlinear problems that we can do, and integrates theory with computational methods and results, so you can quickly get to do CFD. Well written and organized.

The Visual Display of Quantitative Information and Envisioning Information by Edward Tufte. The world is full of so much information, and most of it is so badly organized and badly presented. Wouldn't you rather learn some basic design principles that will let you effectively communicate visually? A picture is worth a thousand words, but a bad picture is worth nothing.



Biomechanics and Biophysics

Biomechanics: Motion, Flow, Stress, Growth, Y-C Fung

Biomechanics: Mechanical Properties of Living Tissues, Y-C Fung

Biomechanics: Circulation, Y-C Fung


All the Fung books are wonderful, combining theoretical background and experimental results. An Introduction to Continuum Mechanics, Y.-C. Fung. Yet another great book by Fung. This is an undergraduate-level engineering text that isn't just about building bridges. There are excellent biological examples and exercises in it.

Life in Moving Fluids, 2nd ed. Steven Vogel. A spectacularly broad description of what happens when things flow in and around living things. The mathematical level is basic. This is not a book about theoretical or computational fluid dynamics.

Axis and Circumference, Stephen Wainwright. A short and sweet book exploring the implications of being cylindrical.

Biological Physics of the Developing Embryo, Gabor Forgacs and Stuart A Newman. A splendidly written, very accessible book about the physical forces that make us who we are. I believe that there is no other book out there on this topic at an introductory level.


Fiction About Science/Academia

Cantor's Dilemma, Carl Djerassi

The Bourbaki Gambit, Carl Djerassi

Menachem's Seed, Carl Djerassi

NO, Carl Djerassi


Djerassi's four novels (to be read in this order) are simultaneously about the culture of science, ethics, major discoveries, women in research, high culture, and occasionally politics and sex. Why not start a Djerassi book discussion group for students and/or faculty to discuss these issues?


Moo, Jane Smiley: a sly, very clever and accurate composite portrait of academic life, from housekeeping to Provost. If you have ever been at a university, you will enjoy it.


The curious incident of the dog in the nighttime by Mark Haddon. Not exactly about academia, but about people who can get obsessed about ideas. Features some well-known and interesting mathematics.



The Complete Guide to Landscape Design, Renovation, and Maintenance: A Practical Handbook for the Home Landscape Gardener  by Cass Turnbull. Irreverent, practical, fun, and it's also good landscaping. By the founder of Seattle's PlantAmnesty ("One raging woman is a lunatic, 2000 people is a movement.") For anyone wondering why their yard doesn't look like the Arboretum. The publisher chose the title. Cass wanted to call it It's a Jungle Out There.


Graduate Students

Getting What You Came For: The Smart Student's Guide to Earning a Master's or a Ph.D., Robert L. Peters.

The Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr., E.B. White, Roger Angell. Everybody has to learn to write, and if you write well, people will understand your work. If you write really well, people will seek out your work, cite it, fund it, and praise it, even if the work itself isn't good. If you write badly, people will not bother to read your work, and you will slowly and painfully fade away into obscurity and unemployment.

Ms. Mentor's Impeccable Advice for Women in Academia, Emily Toth. Irreverent and good advice for young and old, from students to Emeritae. Excellent advice in the grad student section.

A PhD is Not Enough: A Guide to Survival in Science by Peter Feibelman. A slim and overpriced book that is nonetheless worth the price for its excellent advice. Borrow it from a friend.


Mathematical Biology

Mathematical Models in Biology, Leah Edelstein-Keshet. Best for the person who has not studied qualitative theory of ordinary differential equations. A gentle introduction to the construction and analysis of differential and difference equations as models of biological phenomena.

Mathematical Biology, J. D. Murray : Best for the person with a strong background in applied mathematics including ordinary differential equations and basic partial differential equations. The book is not for the beginner in applied mathematics, but is ideal for an applied mathematician, physicist, or other mathematically-trained person who wants to know what to do with all those math skills. Not comprehensive; focused on specific problems Murray and his friends have worked on.



Your Baby and Child, Penelope Leach, is my favorite. Leach is very practical and really gets inside the heads of babies and small children.

Parenting Your Spirited Child, By Mary Kurcinka. Many many practical tips for coping with, and improving, your child's more challenging behaviors.


Science, Miscellaneous

How Many People Can the Earth Support? Joel E. Cohen. This takes 500 pages to answer a single question, but it's all interesting, and most of it is pretty scary. And you think it's hard to find a parking space now.

Guns, Germs, and Steel, Jared Diamond. Why is Western Civilization doing so well, and other parts of the world are not? This is a combination of biology, history, and geography. Some of the answers are: (1) Zebras have a temper, (2) the Americas go north-south while Eurasia goes east-west, (3) keeping the cows in the basement makes your grandchildren healthy. This won the Pulitzer Prize, not just the Lubkin Prize.

Random Walks in Biology, Howard Berg. A short book about things (like single-celled organisms) that move randomly.

Dirt: The Ecstatic Skin of the Earth by William Bryant Logan. This is a book about soil. More than you ever knew you wanted to know about soil. I loved it, but people who have studied soil professionally tell me that it is over the top. Read it, get excited about soil, learn the real dirt on soil, and then trash the book for being over the top. But I loved it.


I am told of a study of television viewers which found that physicians love the cop shows but think the hospital shows are ridiculous; the policemen loved the doctor shows but thought the crime shows were ridiculous. The applied mathematician loves the popular soil science book but thinks the popular math books are extreme. I imagine the soil scientists must love the popular math books.


Structures, Or Why Things Don't Fall Down, J. E. Gordon. This is a totally accessible and wonderful book about civil engineering. Don't look at me like that. How do you know that the ceiling over your head is going to stay there?

The Tinkerer's Accomplice, J. Scott Turner. How does biological complexity emerge? The explanation is, well, complex - and cleverly written and comprehensively annotated.



Teaching Tips, McKeachie. Classic.


Women's Issues

Why So Slow? The Progress of Women, Virginia Valian. This is serious scholarly research, every bit of it backed up by references. Required reading for everybody who hires or promotes anybody in the professions.

Ms. Mentor's Impeccable Advice for Women in Academia, Emily Toth. Irreverent and good advice for young and old, from students to Emeritae.