# Teaching myself differential topology and differential geometry

I have a hazy notion of some stuff in differential geometry and a better, but still not quite rigorous understanding of basics of differential topology.

I have decided to fix this lacuna once for all. Unfortunately I cannot attend a course right now. I must teach myself all the stuff by reading books.

Towards this purpose I want to know what are the most important basic theorems in differential geometry and differential topology. For a start, for differential topology, I think I must read Stokes' theorem and de Rham theorem with complete proofs.

Differential geometry is a bit more difficult. What is a connection? Which notion should I use? I want to know about parallel transport and holonomy. What are the most important and basic theorems here? Are there concise books which can teach me the stuff faster than the voluminous Spivak books?

Also finally I want to read into some algebraic geometry and Hodge/Kähler stuff.

Suggestions about important theorems and concepts to learn, and book references, will be most helpful.

• I enjoyed do Carmo's "Riemannian Geometry", which I found very readable. Of course there's much more to differential geometry than Riemannian geometry, but it's a start... Commented Dec 9, 2010 at 1:02
• This book is probably way too easy for you, but I learned differential geometry from Stoker and I really love this book even though most people seem to not know about it. I personally found de Carmo to be a nice text, but I found Stoker to be far easier to read. I think a lot of the important results are in this book, but you will have to look elsewhere for the most technical things. Commented Dec 9, 2010 at 1:10
• Again, possibly at too low a level, but everything I know about algebraic geometry I learned from working through Cox, Little, and O'Shea. This book is great for self study, in my opinion. I have tried to read the major algebraic geometry texts, but they are way over my head; this book on the other hand always makes complete sense to me. Commented Dec 9, 2010 at 1:20
• Also, Griffiths & Harris is a pretty standard "classical algebraic geometry" book. A word of advice: don't get caught up in chapter 0. It's about 100 pages of not-so-easy complex analysis review. (Or, do get caught up in it, if that's your thing.) Commented Dec 9, 2010 at 9:45
• I don't see why the edit of this question was approved. @rlgordonma? Commented Feb 22, 2013 at 19:49

ADDITION: I have compiled what I think is a definitive collection of listmanias at Amazon for a best selection of books an references, mostly in increasing order of difficulty, in almost any branch of geometry and topology. In particular the books I recommend below for differential topology and differential geometry; I hope to fill in commentaries for each title as I have the time in the future.

If you want to have an overall knowledge Physics-flavored the best books are Nakahara's "Geometry, Topology and Physics" and above all: Frankel's "The Geometry of Physics" (great book, but sometimes his notation can bug you a lot compared to standards).

If you want to learn Differential Topology study these in this order: Milnor's "Topology from a Differentiable Viewpoint", Jänich/Bröcker's "Introduction to Differential Topology" and Madsen's "From Calculus to Cohomology". Although it is always nice to have a working knowledge of general point set topology which you can quickly learn from Jänich's "Topology" and more rigorously with Runde's "A Taste of Topology".

To start Algebraic Topology these two are of great help: Croom's "Basic Concepts of Algebraic Topology" and Sato/Hudson "Algebraic Topology an intuitive approach". Graduate level standard references are Hatcher's "Algebraic Topology" and Bredon's "Topology and Geometry", tom Dieck's "Algebraic Topology" along with Bott/Tu "Differential Forms in Algebraic Topology."

To really understand the classic and intuitive motivations for modern differential geometry you should master curves and surfaces from books like Toponogov's "Differential Geometry of Curves and Surfaces" and make the transition with Kühnel's "Differential Geometry - Curves, Surfaces, Manifolds". Other nice classic texts are Kreyszig "Differential Geometry" and Struik's "Lectures on Classical Differential Geometry".

For modern differential geometry I cannot stress enough to study carefully the books of Jeffrey M. Lee "Manifolds and Differential Geometry" and Liviu Nicolaescu's "Geometry of Manifolds". Both are deep, readable, thorough and cover a lot of topics with a very modern style and notation. In particular, Nicolaescu's is my favorite. For Riemannian Geometry I would recommend Jost's "Riemannian Geometry and Geometric Analysis" and Petersen's "Riemannian Geometry". A nice introduction for Symplectic Geometry is Cannas da Silva "Lectures on Symplectic Geometry" or Berndt's "An Introduction to Symplectic Geometry". If you need some Lie groups and algebras the book by Kirilov "An Introduction to Lie Groops and Lie Algebras" is nice; for applications to geometry the best is Helgason's "Differential Geometry - Lie Groups and Symmetric Spaces".

FOR TONS OF SOLVED PROBLEMS ON DIFFERENTIAL GEOMETRY the best book by far is the recent volume by Gadea/Muñoz - "Analysis and Algebra on Differentiable Manifolds: a workbook for students and teachers". From manifolds to riemannian geometry and bundles, along with amazing summary appendices for theory review and tables of useful formulas.

EDIT (ADDED): However, I would argue that one of the best introductions to manifolds is the old soviet book published by MIR, Mishchenko/Fomenko - "A Course of Differential Geometry and Topology". It develops everything up from $$\mathbb{R}^n$$, curves and surfaces to arrive at smooth manifolds and LOTS of examples (Lie groups, classification of surfaces, etc). It is also filled with LOTS of figures and classic drawings of every construction giving a very visual and geometric motivation. It even develops Riemannian geometry, de Rham cohomology and variational calculus on manifolds very easily and their explanations are very down to Earth. If you can get a copy of this title for a cheap price (the link above sends you to Amazon marketplace and there are cheap "like new" copies) I think it is worth it. Nevertheless, since its treatment is a bit dated, the kind of algebraic formulation is not used (forget about pullbacks and functors, like Tu or Lee mention), that is why an old fashion geometrical treatment may be very helpful to complement modern titles. In the end, we must not forget that the old masters were much more visual an intuitive than the modern abstract approaches to geometry.

NEW!: the book by Mishchenko/Fomenko, along with its companion of problems and solutions, has been recently typeset and reprinted by Cambridge Scientific Publishers!

If you are interested in learning Algebraic Geometry I recommend the books of my Amazon list. They are in recommended order to learn from the beginning by yourself. In particular, from that list, a quick path to understand basic Algebraic Geometry would be to read Bertrametti et al. "Lectures on Curves, Surfaces and Projective Varieties", Shafarevich's "Basic Algebraic Geometry" vol. 1, 2 and Perrin's "Algebraic Geometry an Introduction". But then you are entering the world of abstract algebra.

If you are interested in Complex Geometry (Kähler, Hodge...) I recommend Moroianu's "Lectures on Kähler Geometry", Ballmann's "Lectures on Kähler Manifolds" and Huybrechts' "Complex Geometry". To connect this with Analysis of Several Complex Variables I recommend trying Fritzsche/Grauert "From Holomorphic Functions to Complex Manifolds" and also Wells' "Differential Analysis on Complex Manifolds". Afterwards, to connect this with algebraic geometry, try, in this order, Miranda's "Algebraic Curves and Riemann Surfaces", Mumford's "Algebraic Geometry - Complex Projective Varieties", Voisin's "Hodge Theory and Complex Algebraic Geometry" vol. 1 and 2, and Griffiths/Harris "Principles of Algebraic Geometry".

• That's certainly a nice list! But your amazon link doesn't work. Commented Feb 18, 2011 at 11:53
• I have changed the link to the Amazon list, hope now it works Commented Feb 18, 2011 at 12:54
• @diimension: there is no bother at all! this list, and my other Amazon listmanias, will be very useful to you AFTER your next semester when you get background on rigorous analysis and algebra. Then, books like Runde's and Munkres' on topology will be at your level and you should by all means try them. Pressley or Bär should be your start in differential geometry. Keep studying and everything will be at your reach! At your level right now you could start reading the basic book by "Jänich" on topology at the same time you study next semester courses. Commented Dec 13, 2012 at 8:02
• @5space: sorry, the link has been removed and my answer updated because the book has recently been typeset and reprinted by Cambridge Scientific Publishers, so it is copyrighted again, but anyone can buy a copy. Regards. Commented Apr 25, 2014 at 8:36
• @Akerbeltz I did not delete anything, it has to be an Amazon problem that those lists were lost in the newer web/account designs or maximum limit of lists they set. Commented Jun 25, 2019 at 11:29

For differential topology, I would add Poincare duality to something you may want to know. A good textbook is Madsen and Tornehave's From Calculus to Cohomology. Another nice book is John Lee's Introduction to Smooth Manifolds.

For differential geometry, I don't really know any good texts. Besides the standard Spivak, the other canonical choice would be Kobayashi-Nomizu's Foundations of Differential Geometry, which is by no means easy going. There is a new book by Jeffrey Lee called Manifolds and Differential Geometry in the AMS Graduate Studies series. I have not looked at it personally in depth, but it has some decent reviews. It covers a large swath of the differential topology, and also the basic theory of connections. (As a side remark, if you like doing computations, Kobayashi's original paper "Theory of connections" is not very hard to read, and may be a good starting place before you jump into some of the more special-topic/advanced texts like Kolar, Slovak, and Michor's Natural operations in differential geometry.)

A book I've enjoyed and found useful (though not so much as a textbook) is Morita's Geometry of differential forms.

• @Willie: As you seem to know a bit (a lot) about this, could you suggest what would be a nice book to start with if someone is interested in harmonic analysis and PDEs and wants to know how to do this kind of stuff on non-Euclidean spaces (I guess that is what Diff Geom is about?)? Also, do you have a reference where there things are applicable in PDE (or harmonic analysis)? Commented Dec 8, 2010 at 23:19
• @Jonas: I don't actually know much about harmonic analysis on non-Euclidean spaces. AFAIK most of the introductory material in that direction is in the context of symmetric spaces, and a standard reference for that is Helgason's book "Differential Geometry, Lie Groups, and Symmetric Spaces". Then you may want to look at Joseph Wolf's "Harmonic analysis on commutative spaces". In a slightly different direction, you can also look at Eli Stein's "Topics in harmonic analysis related to the Littlewood Paley theory". Commented Dec 8, 2010 at 23:34
• For PDEs, the information in most advanced texts are perfectly applicable to the case of manifolds (at least in regard to scalar functions; sections of vector bundles can get a bit trickier). So much of Hormander's "Analysis of Linear Partial Differential Operator" is applicable and Taylor's "Partial Differential Equation" also (the latter also explicitly formulate the discussion on manifolds, though the text in general is very dense). You may also want to look at Jost's "Riemannian Geometry and Geometric Analysis". There are in fact lots of words written about PDEs on manifolds... Commented Dec 8, 2010 at 23:41
• @Jonas: Then let me give a quick description of differences on the manifold setting. Simple Fourier analysis does not carry well directly to the manifold setting, since Fourier analysis requires some symmetries. You can do it by looking at coordinate patches, but the (pseudo)differential operators you define will depend on the coordinate chart you chose (though usually the principal part is invariant under coordinate change). In the absence of symmetries which allows you to define the Fourier transform group theoretically, you can otherwise do frequency decomposition using spectral theory... Commented Dec 9, 2010 at 1:42
• +1 for Lee, I found this book enormously useful, and often surprised me with it's simplicity. Additionally the appendix is a gem! Commented Dec 9, 2010 at 6:39

I'm doing exactly the same thing as you right now. I'm self-learning differential topology and differential geometry. To those ends, I really cannot recommend John Lee's "Introduction to Smooth Manifolds" and "Riemannian Manifolds: An Introduction to Curvature" highly enough. "Smooth Manifolds" covers Stokes Theorem, the de Rham theorem and more, while "Riemnannian Manifolds" covers connections, metrics, etc.

The attention to detail that Lee writes with is so fantastic. When reading his texts that you know you're learning things the standard way with no omissions. And of course, the same goes for his proofs.

Plus, the two books are the second and third in a triology (the first being his "Introduction to Topological Manifolds"), so they were really meant to be read in this order.

Of course, I also agree that Guillemin and Pollack, Hirsch, and Milnor are great supplements, and will probably emphasize some of the topological aspects that Lee doesn't go into.

• +1. Lee's "trilogy" is probably the best "one author"source on graduate topology and geometry that currently exists, but it's sheer length is really going to make it a tough choice for coursework. They're really best suited for a self-studying student working through them at his or her own pace. For that, the books are matchless. Commented Oct 1, 2014 at 3:22
• @Mathemagician1234 How long did it take you to read through these books? Commented Feb 12, 2016 at 20:11

Like the other posters, I think Lee's books are fantastic. I'd start with his Introduction to Smooth Manifolds.

For differential geometry, I'd go on to his Riemannian Manifolds and then follow up with do Carmo's Riemannian Geometry. (That's what I did.)

For differential topology, after Lee's Smooth Manifolds, I'd suggest Differential Forms in Algebraic Topology by Bott, Tu and anything (and everything) by Milnor.

Guillemin and Pollack's "Differential Topology" is about the friendliest introduction to the subject you could hope for. It's an excellent non-course book. Good supplementary books would be Milnor's "Topology from a differentiable viewpoint" (much more terse), and Hirsch's "Differential Topology" (much more elaborate, focusing on the key analytical theorems).

For differential geometry it's much more of a mixed bag as it really depends on where you want to go. I've always viewed Ehresmann connections as the fundamental notion of connection. But it suits my tastes. But I don't know much in the way of great self-learning differential geometry texts, they're all rather quirky special-interest textbooks or undergraduate-level grab-bags of light topics. I haven't spent any serious amount of time with the Spivak books so I don't feel comfortable giving any advice on them.

• +1 for Guillemin/Pollack-one of the great classic textbooks on any subject by 2 masters. Commented May 5, 2012 at 18:41

Here is my list of about 60 textbooks and historical works about differential geometry.

differential geometry textbooks

About 50 of these books are 20th or 21st century books which would be useful as introductions to differential geometry. I give some brief indications of the contents and suitability of most of the books in this list.

I had seen a mention of this work on Differential Geometry by Theodore Shifrin at UGA giving it great comments mathoverflow.

It's currently a free and legal download. It's an entry level text and the prior responders have put a lot of effort into giving outstanding suggestions. But I thought it might be of interest.

https://www.math.uga.edu/directory/people/theodore-shifrin

• +1. One of the best free sources on undergraduate differential geometry and it may be nearing completion for a publisher,so download it ASAP! Commented Oct 1, 2014 at 3:15

I would like to recommend Modern Differential Geometry of curves and surfaces with Mathematica, by Alfred Gray, Elsa Abbena, and Simon Salamon. You can look at it on Google books to decide if it fits your style. If you are a Mathematica user, I think this is a wonderful avenue for self-study, for you can see and manipulate all the central constructions yourself. I use Gray's code frequently; I was a fan.

PS. Here is how he died: "of a heart attack which occurred while working with students in a computer lab at 4 a.m."!

• Alternatively, if you're a Maple guy, there's Oprea's [ Differential Geometry and Its Applications ](books.google.com/books?id=xb48zk0wJfIC). Commented Dec 9, 2010 at 2:25
• @Ｊ.Ｍ. Is the Maple-based book comparable in quality to the Mathematica-based book, or should I skip it for the sake of another book? My library doesn't have access to the Mathematica-based book, hence my question. Commented Jan 29, 2014 at 1:28
• Joseph, have you had a chance to look at Frankel's book "Geometry of Physics"? If you have, I would be curious to know your opinion of it. (P.S. mining your MO/M.SE answers for resource recommendations has been an absolute godsend for me -- sincerely: thanks!) Commented Jan 29, 2014 at 1:35
• @twirlobite: I own the book but haven't looked at it for some time. I alway have found the lack of perspective on the front cover a bit jarring :-) cover here Commented Jan 29, 2014 at 1:53

My take on it is like this:

Basics of Smooth manifolds

• Loring Tu, Introduction to manifolds - elementary introduction,
• Jeffrey Lee, Manifolds and Differential geometry, chapters 1-11 - cover the basics (tangent bundle, immersions/submersions, Lie group basics, vector bundles, differential forms, Frobenius theorem) at a relatively slow pace and very deep level.
• Will Merry, Differential Geometry - beautifully written notes (with problems sheets!), where lectures 1-27 cover pretty much the same stuff as the above book of Jeffrey Lee

Basic notions of differential geometry

• Jeffrey Lee, Manifolds and Differential geometry, chapters 12 and 13 - center around the notions of metric and connection.

• Will Merry, Differential Geometry - lectures 28-53 also center around metrics and connections, but the notion of parallel transport is worked out much more thoroughly than in Jeffrey Lee's book.

• Sundararaman Ramanan, Global calculus - a high-brow exposition of basic notions in differential geometry. A unifying topic is that of differential operators (done in a coordinate-free way!) and their symbols.

What I find most valuable about these books is that they try to avoid using indices and local coordinates for developing the theory as much as possible, and only use them for concrete computations with examples.

However, the above books only lay out the general notions and do not develop any deep theorems about the geometry of a manifold you may wish to study. At this point the tree of differential geometry branches out into various topics like Riemannian geometry, symplectic geometry, complex differential geometry, index theory, etc.

I will only mention one book here for the breadth of topics discussed

• Arthur Besse, Einstein manifolds - reviews Riemannian geometry and tells about (more or less) the state of the art at 1980 of the differential geometry of Kähler and Einstein manifolds.

Differential topology

• Amiya Mukherjee, Differential Topology - first five chapters overlap a bit with the above titles, but chapter 6-10 discuss differential topology proper - transversality, intersection, theory, jets, Morse theory, culminating in h-cobordism theorem.

• Raoul Bott and Loring Tu, Differential Forms in Algebraic Topology - a famous classic; maybe not a book on differential topology proper - as the title suggests, this is a treatment of algebraic topology of manifolds using analytic methods. But with substantial amount of differential topology along the way

• Great suggestions. Unfortunately, the link to Prof. Will Merry's notes is broken and some lectures are not found in the internet archives. It would be really great if you could somehow share them. Commented Nov 9, 2022 at 4:38
• @RichoddAsscraft: I was sad to learn that Prof. Will Merry, whose personal website is locked, passed away in July, 2022 at the age of 37. Commented Nov 19, 2022 at 20:53
• @hardmath, this is awful, I am so sorry to read this Commented Nov 20, 2022 at 5:29

I would recommend Jost's book "Riemannian geometry and geometric analysis" as well as Sharpe's "Differential geometry".

The first book is pragmatically written and guides the reader to a lot of interesting stuff, like Hodge's theorem, Morse homology and harmonic maps.

The second book is mainly concerned with Cartan connection, but before that it has an excellent chapter on differential topology. Furthermore it treats Ehresmann connections in appendix A.

• I reviewed the fifth edition of Jost's book for MAA Reviews awhile back-while excellently organized and written, it's very condensed and terse.I think it's best suited for a second course in differential geometry after digesting a standard introductory treatment,like Petersen or DoCarmo.Sharpe is easier and beautifully written,but it has a rather unusual selection of topics-this also makes it better suited for a second course. Commented Oct 1, 2014 at 3:18