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I'm looking for a book to read to my kids. NOT a kids book, but not too mature for a kid. My youngest kid that reads with me is 6 and the eldest is 10.

I'm looking for a book that is good literature, and is hard to put down. Also maybe a book that makes the subject in school more interesting. Not just tedious memorization, but presenting it in a way that makes the child excited about what he/she is learning. And not a book that teaches the subject, (math etc....) but a book that teaches how it got started or why it's important.

Are there any books like these you that you have read that made you excited about math? If so please tell me.

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    $\begingroup$ Take a look at books written by Smullyan $\endgroup$ – Foobaz John Nov 12 '17 at 17:55
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    $\begingroup$ It's possible this question will get closed (though I did not vote in favor of such an action). In any case, if you glean anything from this, please do get the number devil. $\endgroup$ – Alekos Robotis Nov 12 '17 at 18:01
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    $\begingroup$ Anything by Martin Gardner! $\endgroup$ – kjetil b halvorsen Nov 12 '17 at 18:43
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    $\begingroup$ Flatland is a classic. $\endgroup$ – Paul Sinclair Nov 13 '17 at 1:02
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    $\begingroup$ Alice in Wonderland, of course. $\endgroup$ – luser droog Nov 13 '17 at 5:20

31 Answers 31

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When I was a child, I really liked the book The Number Devil by Hans Magnus Enzensberger.

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    $\begingroup$ I was going to suggest this at well. This book wonderfully manages to merge a fantasy world with real math. It also is quite good at explaining rather advanced topics to children well before they would otherwise not even be told about until much later in life. On top of that, it also leaves some hanging ends open for the child to investigate further, should they want to do so.[ $\endgroup$ – Jasper Nov 13 '17 at 14:07
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    $\begingroup$ I saw this question from the network side and immediately thought of this book--great recommendation. $\endgroup$ – AegisCruiser Nov 14 '17 at 2:53
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    $\begingroup$ This was going to be my immediate suggestion as well. Loved it when I was about the age of the youngest child here (which would be around the time it first came out). I learned that $11! = 39\,916\,800$ and I haven't forgotten it since (don't ask me about $9!$ or $10!$). I learned other things too, mind you. $\endgroup$ – Arthur Nov 14 '17 at 12:15
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    $\begingroup$ Have a look at it first. I saw it as a young adult, and instantly hated it (but forgot everything now). I vaguely remember that the premise seems to be about a kid finding math hard/difficult/annoying and not beiing good at it. Also it put some air of mystery around it. As a child, I loved math, so this would have put me off. But maybe I am wrong about that book $\endgroup$ – lalala Nov 17 '17 at 11:07
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Not really mathematics, but do check out Norton Juster's Phantom Tollbooth. It's surely age appropriate; some of the other suggestions here are a stretch, I think.

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    $\begingroup$ For younger children, Juster's The Dot & the Line is a good choice. $\endgroup$ – N. F. Taussig Nov 14 '17 at 1:46
  • $\begingroup$ A fantastic book with a charming film adaptation. Might help spark an interest in numbers and letters that makes school more interesting $\endgroup$ – Stevetech Nov 14 '17 at 16:53
  • $\begingroup$ One of my favourite books of all time! I read it first at age 8, then at sporadic intervals until very recently (I'm now 56!) and enjoyed as much every time. There are loads of subtle jokes you don't get as a child. Recommended! $\endgroup$ – Avrohom Yisroel Nov 14 '17 at 22:48
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Definitely

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Number_Devil

by Hans Magnus Enzensberger

In Italy the title is "Il Mago dei Numeri" (The Numbers Wizard) to avoid offense to Vatican Holy See Pope, I guess :)

The original title is

Der Zahlenteufel. Ein Kopfkissenbuch für alle, die Angst vor der Mathematik haben

More or less

The number devil. A pillow book for those who are afraid of mathematics

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    $\begingroup$ I am unable to understand the relevance of the title of the Italian edition, and even more of the conjecture about it (the Italian publishing world being full of titles with diavolo (devil) in them). $\endgroup$ – DaG Nov 13 '17 at 20:27
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The World of Mathematics, edited by James R. Newman, 1956. I received this 4-volume set at the age of 10 as a gift, and although some of it was over my head, much of it was fully accessible to a youngster. In the 55 years since I first met this book, I've returned to it again and again. Unlike this reviewer, the book never gets old.

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A couple of recommendations:

  • Abbott, Edwin Abbott, Flatland. A romance of many dimensions. With a new introduction by Thomas Banchoff, Princeton Science Library. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press (ISBN 0-691-12366-7/pbk). xxxi, 103 p. (2005). ZBL1088.00001. (The social satire is a bit dated, but the mathematical intuition is timeless.)
  • Ivar Ekeland and John O'Brien (illustrator). The Cat in Numberland. Goodreads link (My six year old loves this one.)
  • Malba Tahan. The Man Who Counted: A collection of mathematical adventures Goodreads link
  • Lockhart, Paul, Measurement, Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press (ISBN 978-0-674-05755-5/hbk; 978-0-674-06734-9/ebook). 407 p. (2012). ZBL1259.97008. (This one may need to wait a couple of years, but positively oozes enthusiasm.)
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    $\begingroup$ Upvote for Flatland. I actually read that as a kid, and it got me definitly. $\endgroup$ – philipp Nov 13 '17 at 14:51
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A 1959 27-minute cartoon called Donald in Mathmagic Land https://youtu.be/AJgkaU08VvY is a cartoon, not a book, but I remember owning a comic book of the same name. (The full bibliographic citation for the comic books is Walt Disney's Donald In Mathmagic Land, No. 1051, Dell Publishing Co., August 1959.) Carl Barks was the principal artist associated with the comic-book version of Donald Duck. The definitive source on Disney comics—https://coa.inducks.org—explicitly credits the Donald in Mathmagic Land comic book to writer Don R. Christensen, penciler Tony Strobl, and inker Steve Steere. It can be bought on Amazon at https://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=Walt+Disney%27s+Donald+In+Mathmagic+Land

The cartoon received a 1959 Academy Award nomination for Best Documentary - Short.

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  • $\begingroup$ Wow, that's amazing! I thought I'd seen pretty much every Donald Duck cartoon going, but I've never even heard of that one. It's brilliant! $\endgroup$ – Avrohom Yisroel Nov 14 '17 at 22:57
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These two books by Apostolos Doxiadis, have been generally praised:

I am not sure they are suitable for 6-10 year-olds, but then again the other suggestions I saw here aren't as well. So I thought I'd suggest them and you can decide if they are appropriate for your kids.

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    $\begingroup$ I've read the former, and personally I wouldn't recommend it for 6-10. Maybe a bit older. There are some psychological tones that would probably be difficult to explain. $\endgroup$ – Federico Poloni Nov 13 '17 at 8:21
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    $\begingroup$ Logicomix was nice and really interesting, but IMO is for a more grown up audience. $\endgroup$ – Matteo Italia Nov 13 '17 at 8:47
  • $\begingroup$ I've read Logicomix, and I agree that it's not for most 6-10 year olds. But since I noticed that the most popular answer here is about a book suitable for older kids as well, I thought I'd mention these two as well. $\endgroup$ – Thanassis Nov 13 '17 at 9:28
  • $\begingroup$ Uncle Petros and Goldbach's Conjecture is a great book, but as you said, not suitable for this age group. $\endgroup$ – Jared Becksfort Nov 14 '17 at 16:35
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The Infinite Farm will turn your child into a budding set theorist.

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I really loved The I Hate Mathematics Book: it's whimsical, and genuinely funny, as it tackles math that's both interesting and accessible.

It's been decades since I read it last, but I recall that it tends to focus on Discrete Math - my favorite type.

I don't know if I loved the book because discrete math is somehow intrinsically interesting to me, or if I found discrete math so interesting because of the fond memories I associate with this book.

Either way, I highly recommend it.

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    $\begingroup$ This was going to be my recommendation too. There are a lot of pictures; it's perfect for the age range of OP's children. $\endgroup$ – BlueRaja - Danny Pflughoeft Nov 13 '17 at 10:51
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    $\begingroup$ Marilyn Burns, who wrote The I Hate Mathematics Book, later wrote Math for Smarty Pants for the same book series (the "Brown Paper School"). I remember both books being excellent. $\endgroup$ – Michael Seifert Nov 13 '17 at 15:19
  • $\begingroup$ @MichaelSeifert: I've been looking for the name of that book for the entirety of my adult life! It's one of the things that triggered my interest in mathematics as a child. Holy crap, thank you!!! $\endgroup$ – BlueRaja - Danny Pflughoeft Nov 13 '17 at 15:37
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    $\begingroup$ I was influenced at an early age by these books as well, and I’ve already acquired copies for my about-to-be-born daughter! $\endgroup$ – G Tony Jacobs Nov 16 '17 at 16:56
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Anything by Raymond Smullyan He always starts with wonderful logic problems about liars and truth-sayers, and uses that as a springboard to tackle very deep math (over your kids heads, but you do not need to go into that part of the books).

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    $\begingroup$ Eh, I don't know. Smullyan hardly reads like a chore, but it does read like a puzzle, not as "good literature, that is hard to put down". If you're not in the mood for puzzles, it will just gather dust. $\endgroup$ – Tobia Tesan Nov 14 '17 at 13:10
  • $\begingroup$ Eh, you can read him straight as if it is only a story, and pretend he isn't asking riddles. Eventually, though, you DO stop, and you DO think, and you DO answer (mostly) $\endgroup$ – Rodrigo A. Pérez Nov 15 '17 at 19:37
  • $\begingroup$ @TobiaTesan It depends which Smullyan you pick. Some are stories - although they may be more philosophical than mathematical .... However, I don't think these are suitable for this age range. $\endgroup$ – cfr Nov 16 '17 at 2:51
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Richard E. Schwartz has found a new format for "Math books for kids", and they are delightful. Get You can count on Monsters, and Really big Numbers. The first is a favorite nighttime book for both my 4 and my 11 year olds.

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It's not a textbook, but it's not really a storybook either. I had utterly forgotten about it until I saw your question and started thinking. When I was a kid, I really liked reading a set of childrens' encyclopedias that we had.

Thanks to Google, I think it was Childcraft Annual's Mathemagics. From what I remember it was filled with short-story-type things illustrating various math and logic puzzles. I enjoyed reading and re-reading them and thinking through the logic puzzles.

This website has a review of the book and a few photos.

Two relevant quotes from there:

Mathemagic is laid out brilliantly. It baits the hook by opening with things kids love – puzzles, tricks and games. The first chapter, if read sequentially, takes readers by the hand and welcomes them into the world of math, logic, and the beauty of rational thought.

Because we read through Mathemagic as an evolving story, we noticed how each chapter got a little richer, a little more mathematical, but always practical, vibrant, and accessible. After puzzles and riddles, we got the history of numbers, counting, and math.

I'll also mention "Lockhart's Lament", not as something to read to your kids, but as something that is a good read for anyone interested in math. It illustrates how the "math" that is taught in schools really eliminates all that is fun in math: thinking, puzzling and coming up with solutions. Although, based on you asking this, I suspect that you probably already know that ;)

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    $\begingroup$ @RonJensen No +1 for the mention of "Lockhart's Lament" from me, actually. While I agree with the general conclusion that most high school curricula around the world suppress mathematical reasoning for the most part and misrepresent mathematics (I've heard so many kids who graduate HS believing that "huh, mathematics... is... the study of numbers" -- sorry, number theorists), I think Lockhart's touchy-feely prose does very little both to ingratiate the reader and to clarify matters. $\endgroup$ – Tobia Tesan Nov 14 '17 at 23:29
  • $\begingroup$ I mention it because it made me realize that I don't actually hate math, I just dislike the rote version that is taught. "Take these formulas, solve that problem". I hope that by having been made aware of that, I can use that experience to encourage a love of math in my future children. :) $\endgroup$ – BunnyKnitter Nov 15 '17 at 17:59
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Scour the web for copies of any book you can find by Yakov Perelman. The titles vary because of different translators, but he is absolutely lovely.

Recreational Physics for instance, illustrates basic physical phenomena with everyday stories and excerpts from famous books (Jules Verne) was a favorite of his. It is not math, but such a glorious read, aimed at youngsters.

I had Recreational Mathematics and Recreational Algebra too, and they were two of my favorite books ever.

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If you can tolerate some deviation from the posted specs (comp sci rather than more general math, written for kids but accessible to adults as well), I would recommend Lauren Ipsum: A Story About Computer Science and Other Improbable Things by Carlos Bueno. It introduces many computer science concepts in a witty and memorable way, and is a very fun read. Kirkus review.

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  • $\begingroup$ I was suggesting Lauren Ipsum too! $\endgroup$ – mau Nov 14 '17 at 18:22
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It's a bit of a long shot given your question, but it's so good I think it would be a pity not to mention it: The Neverending Story [warning: TVTropes link, do what you want] is infused with a certain fascination for philosophy, logic and paradoxes. Never pedantic, intimately scholarly, reads like a thriller, ages 6 to 106.

If I remember correctly, the book introduces, among others, several classical paradoxes, the infinite monkey theorem, the notion of self-similarity and of decision trees to a wholly unsuspecting reader.

I also seem to remember that, at some point, the Ivory Tower is characterized in a geometrically interesting way as being equidistant from all other points in the land of Fantasia.

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I liked Lancelot Hogben's Mathematics in the Making when I was a kid.

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  • $\begingroup$ I have editions of Hogben's Mathematics for the Million and his Science for the Citizen. Both are more suitable for the big chap than the little one. $\endgroup$ – Weather Vane Nov 15 '17 at 18:21
  • $\begingroup$ I think Mathematics in the Making is better for kids than M for the Million. It is lavishly illustrated and one can skip the chapters altogether and just stick with the captions. But its been about 50 decades since I last read the book, so my memories might be betraying me. $\endgroup$ – kimchi lover Nov 15 '17 at 18:48
  • $\begingroup$ I didn't know of that M in the Making. $\endgroup$ – Weather Vane Nov 15 '17 at 18:53
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Things to Make And Do in the Fourth Dimension by Matt Parker is a fun read.

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I would strongly recommend these :

  1. Puzzles to Puzzle You from an Indian author, Shakuntala Devi and
  2. More puzzles to puzzle you from the same. These two induced a zeal of Puzzles in me and made puzzling dear to my heart. Mathematics was already loved by me, but hitting the dopamine with puzzles is a feeling of a different level.

Currently, I am reading these two books:

  1. My Best Mathematical and Logic Puzzles from Martin Gardner.
  2. To Mock a Mockingbird by Raymond Smullyan
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I received Puzzling Adventures by Dennis E Shasha as a gift in eight grade and thoroughly enjoyed it - I still have my copy on my bookshelf today. The book consists of a collection of mathematical puzzles connected by a fascinating cast of characters, including the inimitable Dr. Ecco, and contains an encrypted meta-puzzle that took me several years to solve.

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Computational Fairy Tales by Jeremy Kubica is supposed to be good - it's more focused on computer science but I think is otherwise exactly what you're asking for.

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Personally, I loved to read the Murderous Maths series by Kjartan Poskitt when I was younger.

Each book talks about a certain area of maths, ranging from simple topics (such as arithmetic) to more complex (algebra, trigenomety).

All the books use an ongoing story, recurring characters and humourous comics to explain both mathematics theory and history, as well as practical uses for these mathematical skills. They really do make learning the maths fun.

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It has been a really long time since I read it so my memories about it are a bit foggy but I remember that I really liked The Parrot's Theorem by Denis Guedj. It is a fiction book that talks a lot about the history of mathematics.

The original version was in French and called Le Théorème du Perroquet.

Note that this may be a bit too complicated for 10 years old. Have a look and make up your mind for yourself but you may have to wait a couple of years.

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I'm a big fan of the books of William Dunham, in particular "The Mathematical Universe" - https://www.amazon.com/Mathematical-Universe-Alphabetical-Problems-Personalities/dp/0471176613.

It presents actual mathematics, while maintaining an approachable, storytelling perspective.

His other books include Journey Through Genius, The Calculus Gallery, and Euler: The Master of Us All, though they're somewhat more advanced.

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Try Nets, Puzzles and Postmen: An Exploration of Mathematical Connections! It is aimed at a lay audience but is extremely interesting even for a mathematically trained reader. I learned a simple proof of a complicated theorem from it (which was briefly sketched in a kind of endnote for more advanced readers)!

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  • $\begingroup$ I think it's a bit too much for a 10 years old, however. $\endgroup$ – mau Nov 14 '17 at 18:21
  • $\begingroup$ @mau: At 10 years old I would have absolutely loved it. At that time, I didn't know such a book existed, and my favourite back then was The Mathematical Universe. Only recently did I come across the wonderful book in my post. It could be because I was already very interested in olympiad stuff, but hey I think graph theory can be made interesting to any 10-year-old by any good teacher! Have you actually read the book yourself? =) $\endgroup$ – user21820 Nov 15 '17 at 14:39
  • $\begingroup$ of course I have read it (this year, as a matter of fact, so I remember it fairly well). Its prose is captivating, but even not considering the appendix I still contend that it could be ok for a 13- or 14 year old (given that (s)he loves maths, of course) $\endgroup$ – mau Nov 15 '17 at 14:56
  • $\begingroup$ @mau: Well I agree it depends on the (mathematical) age of the reader, and if you don't have a teacher then you probably need to have some mathematical interest to begin with, otherwise you won't have enough motivation to work through the book. But in the case you are a parent who can spend the time to read with your child and also discuss and explain (as the asker seems to want to do) then I think you can do a good job with this book (plus copious parent-drawn diagrams) if you want. It will take energy and time, so it's not a throwaway book. =) $\endgroup$ – user21820 Nov 15 '17 at 15:24
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You could look at How to fold it by Joseph O'Rourke:

https://www.amazon.com/How-Fold-Mathematics-Linkages-Polyhedra/dp/0521145473

(This might be a little advanced, but not by much. And the geometry/handicraft aspect is fun even if you don't fully grasp the mathematics of it.)

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  • $\begingroup$ In first glance I read the first link as "Good math, bad times stories". And I thought this might be a blog about life as a PhD student or a postdoc or something... :P $\endgroup$ – Asaf Karagila Nov 16 '17 at 7:58
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The Joy of X by Steven Strogatz.

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    $\begingroup$ Can you provide any reasons why you recommend it? $\endgroup$ – Kevin Long Nov 13 '17 at 2:00
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The book Math Curse, by Jon Scieszka and Lane Smith link was a personal favorite.

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Fermat's last theorem by Simon Singh is, as you say, "NOT a kids book". Whether it's "too mature for a kid" depends on what you mean. Some of the mathematics may be too advanced, but don't sell your kids short. They will probably still be able to appreciate the eponymous problem (at least if they're interested in math in any way), as well as problems like the bridges of Königsberg and the 14-15 sliding puzzle. And, of course, the actual history that the book details. I remember having read and enjoyed (parts of) the book long before I was 10.

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Arranged in decreasing order of approachability, here are some of my favorites:

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    $\begingroup$ 'Gödel, Escher, Bach' is not for kids, and it's pompous nonsense. $\endgroup$ – smci Nov 16 '17 at 22:59
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    $\begingroup$ @smci: I don't know how to thank you enough for your comment. I find the author of "G. E. B." a somewhat intelligent charlatan; I am sad to see that he gets so much visibility. $\endgroup$ – Alex M. Nov 20 '17 at 12:41
  • $\begingroup$ @smci: It would be nice to see some justification for saying that GEB is "pompus nonsense". $\endgroup$ – user 170039 Jul 18 '18 at 17:48
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    $\begingroup$ @user170039: there are decades of such reviews on news.ycombinator.com, ArsTechnica, Amazon reviews... you can easily find them $\endgroup$ – smci Jul 18 '18 at 20:56

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