so next semester (Spring 2015) I'm taking a Linear Algebra class. I was wondering if anyone who's had this book "Linear Algebra and Its Applications, 4th Edition - by David C. Lay" can give me an honest opinion of it. The book mentioned above is the one assigned for my class next semester. A friend of mine gave me this book "Linear Algebra, A Modern Introduction - by David Poole". How do the two compare? DO you think I could not buy the book assigned for my class and instead use the book by David Poole?

Thanks in advance.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ I've never read Poole. Lay's book is quite good (from beginners perspective). $\endgroup$ Dec 20, 2014 at 8:17
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ No need to buy anything in advance, imo. The book surely exists in your school's library, and if they have few copies of it then the course's lecturer should make them reserved, meaning that at least 1-2 copies will be unlendable and will remain in the library. Begin the course and see how much you actually need this book and how much are you able to go without it and/or with other books. After a few weeks you'll be wiser and could make a better decision whether to buy the book or not. $\endgroup$
    – Timbuc
    Dec 20, 2014 at 11:26

1 Answer 1


I've not ever heard of either of those books, but I've taught linear algebra before and my advice is to buy (or borrow or rent or whatever) the book your instructor assigned.

My reasons:

  1. Homework is often assigned out of the book so you need access to the class text anyway.
  2. Most linear algebra books cover pretty much the exact same stuff so the advantage of having the book you want over the book that was assigned is probably minimal.
  3. Though the material is the same, the order is definitely not always the same. If the book you want covers the material in a different order then you're gonna have a hard time understanding proofs that rely on material that you haven't gotten to in class but the book assumes you understand.
  4. Professors sometimes (though not always) know the book they are teaching out of very well and tailor their class presentation to complement whats in the book. You'll be missing out on that.

There are certainly obvious counter arguments to some of what I've said, but I don't think they add up to the weight of the possible downsides.

That said, point (2) and the fact that you already have the other book might convince you to try and not get the class text. If you're gonna go that route just ask the professor why it is/isn't a good idea. If he has reasons to say you shouldn't they're probably honest reasons and he'll probably tell you them straight out. You should also look at the table of contents of the two books and see if you can spot anything that's obviously out of order. That will clue you in to where the potential future pitfalls of your decision might come. Check both books against a class syllabus too (if there's one detailed enough to list topics and/or a schedule).


You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .