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IWD 2020: Books about Maths by Women

For International Women’s Day, mathematician Lucy Rycroft-Smith has read a selection of maths books by women authors, and recommended some favourites.

There’s a strange irony about being a woman in mathematics. You spend a huge amount of time and energy answering questions about being a woman in mathematics instead of, you know, using that time and energy to do or write about actual maths. We women are somehow both the problem and the solution. 

But behold: 2020 is here, and better and braver women than I have solved this conundrum.  Here are a whole host of excellent books about maths by women that you should definitely read, collected for you by another woman in maths. 

Review: Geometry Snacks, by Ed Southall and Vincent Pantaloni

Geometry Snacks cover

Exams have a nasty habit of sucking the joy out of a subject. My interest in proper literature was dulled by A-Level English, and I celebrated my way out of several GCSE papers – in subjects I’d picked because I enjoyed them – saying “I’ll never have to do that again.”

Geometry is a topic that generally suffers badly from this – but fortunately, Ed Southall and Vincent Pantaloni’s Geometry Snacks is here to set that right.

“I own more maths books by Martin Gardner than by women, is that bad?”

Today is International Women’s Day, so we’ve taken a moment to think about the woman mathematicians in our lives.

We each have fairly sizeable collections of maths books, which prompted CLP to wonder how many of them are by female authors. A quick scan of our respective bookshelves later, here’s what we found.

Books a 14-year-old who’s good at maths might enjoy

My good friend David Cushing popped on Facebook messenger to ask me a question:

David: "My 13 (almost 14) year old cousin says she's thinking of doing maths at uni. Was gonna get her a mathsy book for her birthday. Any suggestions?"

I did tweet it, and I got a lot of good responses. Before I tell you about those, I’ll quickly list the books we mentioned above, that of course a keen 13-year-old already has.

How many ways to shuffle a pack of cards?

This is an excerpt from friend of The Aperiodical, Matt Parker’s book, “Things to Make and Do in the Fourth Dimension”, which is out now in paperback.


There’s a lovely function in mathematics called the factorial function, which involves multiplying the input number by every number smaller than it. For example: $\operatorname{factorial}(5) = 5 \times 4 \times 3 \times 2 \times 1 = 120$. The values of factorials get alarmingly big so, conveniently, the function is written in shorthand as an exclamation mark. So when a mathematician writes things like $5! = 120$ and $13! = 6,\!227,\!020,\!800$ the exclamation mark represents both factorial and pure excitement. Factorials are mathematically interesting for several reasons, possibly the most common being that they represent the ways objects can be shuffled. If you have thirteen cards to shuffle, then there are thirteen possible cards you could put down first. You then have the remaining twelve cards as options for the second one, eleven for the next, and so on – giving just over 6 billion possibilities for arranging a mere thirteen cards.

Mathical books for kids award winners announced

mathical awards

US organisations the Mathematical Sciences Research Institute (MSRI) and the Children’s Book Council (CBC) have founded a youth book prize, called Mathical: Books for Kids from Tots to Teens. The prizes, awarded for the first time this year, recognise the most inspiring maths-related fiction and nonfiction books aimed at young people. This year, they’ve awarded a set of prizes for books released in 2014, as well as honouring books published been 2009 and 2014, plus two ‘hall of fame’ winners from the further past.