Book Review - Mathematics for Human Flourishing

05-05-2021 21:24:44

Title: Mathematics for Human Flourishing

Author: Francis Su

Brief description (from back of book): 

“For mathematician Francis Su, a society without mathematical affection is like a city without concerts, parks, or museums. To miss out on mathematics is to live without experiencing some of humanity’s most beautiful ideas. In this profound book written for a wide audience but especially for those disenchanted by their past experiences, an award-winning mathematician and educator weaves parables, puzzles, and personal reflections to show how mathematics meets basic human desires — such as for play, beauty, freedom, justice, and love — and cultivates virtues essential for human flourishing. These desires and virtues, and the stories told here, reveal how mathematics is intimately tied to being humans. Some lessons emerge from those who have struggled, including philosopher Simone Weil, whose own mathematical contributions were overshadowed by her brother’s, and Christopher Jackson, who discovered mathematics as an inmate in a federal prison. Christopher’s letters to the author appear throughout the book and show how this intellectual pursuit can — and must — be open to all.”

Important ideas of the book:

This fascinating book is focused on promoting the study of mathematics from a place of flourishing as a human, as a productive and contributing member of our community, and as a consumer of mathematics. As Su points out, “society has not taken seriously its obligation to provide a vibrant mathematics education for everyone” and, as a result, the school mathematics that students experience is often out of touch culturally and lacks meaning in the lives of our students. Su argues throughout the book that mathematics is for everyone and this book is for everyone, including parents who need to provide support for their school-aged children. Through the compelling story of Christopher Jackson, an inmate who is studying mathematics, Su lifts mathematics up as a beautiful exploration that is fulfilling on its own and he consistently asks the question “When you think about who does mathematics, would you think of Christopher?” The book reminds the reader that “every being cries out silently to be read differently” as Su unveils the story of Simone Weil (1909-1943), a French philosopher but also a silent mathematician. Through the stories of Christopher and Simone, mathematics is highlighted as an exercise in exploration, meaning, play, beauty, permanence, truth, struggle, power, justice, freedom, community, and love. 

Table of Contents:


  1. Flourishing
  2. Exploration
  3. Meaning
  4. Play
  5. Beauty
  6. Permanence
  7. Truth
  8. Struggle
  9. Power
  10. Justice
  11. Freedom
  12. Community
  13. Love


About the Author: 

Francis Su writes about the dignity of human beings and the wonder of mathematical teaching. He is the Benediktsson-Karwa Professor of Mathematics at Harvey Mudd College and a former president of the Mathematical Association of America. In 2013, he received the Haimo Award, a nationwide teaching prize for college math faculty, and in 2018 he won the Halmos-Ford writing award for the highly-acclaimed speech that formed the basis for his book Mathematics for Human Flourishing. For that book, he was awarded the 2021 Euler Book Prize. His work has been featured in Quanta Magazine, Wired, and the New York Times.

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