Mathematics Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for people studying math at any level and professionals in related fields. Join them; it only takes a minute:

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

Note: I've edited this question on October 9th, after establishing a bounty on it.

What are the best introductory calculus textbooks that

  • explain why calculus is important in a broad intellectual and scientific context, justifying its inclusion in a liberal education. Necessarily, this means it puts great emphasis on applications to science and engineering, with specifics;

  • are non-dogmatic, i.e. they justify what they say, in most cases in a serious way, i.e. heuristic rather than rigorous (logical rigor in mathematics, a beautiful thing in some contexts, can approach sarcasm in other contexts);

  • Are at a level that can be understood by students adequately prepared in prerequisites but primarily interested in other things than mathematics and not inclined to develop their mathematical ability beyond what is needed to become liberally educated and to know that such a field as mathematics exists (in a way in which most educated people currently do not know there is such a field).

Such a book would not say "This differential equation arises in the study of fluid flow", but rather "This section will explain how to derive this differential equation from these physical principles, and some of the exercises are on understanding steps in this and related derivations, and some of them are on applying the techniques." That's a part of the "non-dogmatic" nature of the book. It would also explain why, or at least that, a particular equation is consequential beyond mathematics.

Such a book would necessarily be ruthless about refusing to include some topics that are part of the (far too) ritualistic standard course.

PS: Could answers describe the books' contents and say why they are judged to answer the points above?

share|cite|improve this question
Stewart's Early transcendentals? But you are probably aware of that already – Prahlad Vaidyanathan Oct 4 '13 at 19:05
A true story: I mentioned to a certain professor of mathematics that a section in Chapter 3 of Stewart that is putatively about applications is dishonest. I said an honest account would be about derivation of differential equations from physical ideas. She said that would be a good thing but there's not enough time for it. I said "So scrap ninety percent of it and then there's time." She indefinitely deferred further discussion of that topic. Are there more important things for mathematicians to do? Standard dogma says work at the forefront of research is more important. That's just dogma. – Michael Hardy Oct 4 '13 at 19:07
fundamentals of mathematical analysis by G.M. Fikhtengolts – ILoveMath Oct 4 '13 at 19:08
@PrahladVaidyanathan : Stewart's Early Transcendentals is the polar opposite of what I have in mind. At some time in the past someone invented a calculus course for people who want to understand calculus. Then people started pushing hordes of completely unqualified students to take calculus. Then people like Stewart watered down that course to the point of making it phony. I'm looking for honest books for honest students. – Michael Hardy Oct 4 '13 at 19:10
I know thit is not what you want - but any good introductory physics course. From my "childhood" I have a preference for Feymnan's lectures, but there are several other choices (some of them might be better from this perspective). The only downside is too much physics :) – user8268 Oct 4 '13 at 19:37
up vote 3 down vote accepted

Try looking at Agnew's book, which now seems to be freely available on the internet:

Ralph Palmer Agnew, Calculus. Analytic Geometry and Calculus, with Vectors, McGraw-Hill Book Company, 1962, xiv + 738 pages.

Agnew's book is probably not as "strongly oriented towards applications in science and engineering" as some books (still, it is probably above average in this regard, being written back during a time when such applications were more thorough than is the case today), but the writing is remarkably fresh and the exercises are among the best you can find in an elementary calculus text.

Another book worth looking at is below. This one is a bit more strongly oriented towards applications and has some novel approaches to certain topics.

James Callahan, et al, Calculus in Context. The Five College Calculus Project, W. H. Freeman, 1995/2008, xxi + 845 pages. [This also is online. See .pdf file for Chapters 1 through 6 and .pdf file for Chapter 7 through 12.]

share|cite|improve this answer
Callahan's title looks promising, but the degree to which it can live up to the title is to be seen. – Michael Hardy Oct 4 '13 at 20:40
The table of contents in Callahan looks better than I expected. – Michael Hardy Oct 4 '13 at 20:56
@Michael Hardy: Chapter 12 looks especially promising for what you're looking for. I got a copy of this book back in 1995 or 1996 and used parts of it in some of the calculus classes I taught at LSMSA during 1996-1999. I seem to recall that it got a lot of good press when it came out, but I haven't heard much about it in quite a while. I was pleasantly surprised to learn (today) that it's now freely available on the internet. – Dave L. Renfro Oct 4 '13 at 21:38
Possibly I'll "accept" this answer because of Callahan, but maybe first I'll try a bounty and see what other answers it can attract. – Michael Hardy Oct 5 '13 at 21:35
Agnew may actually be public domain now. Its copyright was in 1962, and it doesn't appear to have been renewed. – Ben Crowell Jul 10 '14 at 17:44

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.