I recently graduated with a degree in bachelor of science with a focus interactive and multimedia design. I had to opportunity to take 1 C++ course and 1 HTML course. I was also only required to take one math class, introduction to calculus (and it was hardly calculus, it was more of a math class for designers)

Since graduating I have pursued a career in web development. I'm considering going back for a MS in computer science or MS in web technologies.

I feel my math has suffered dramatically as I have always been behind most others on my math studies (middle school through college). I want to learn calculus as I feel it's an integral part of any CS degree.

Does anyone have any recommendations on any great books that I can read through and teach my self a bit of calculus or other advanced math topics?

Thanks for any advice

  • 6
    $\begingroup$ You can try Thomas Calculus, thats a great book to start with. $\endgroup$
    – Ram
    Commented Dec 20, 2013 at 22:00
  • 4
    $\begingroup$ Stewart Calculus. Stewart!!! $\endgroup$
    – Don Larynx
    Commented Dec 20, 2013 at 22:01
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    $\begingroup$ Gilbert Strang has a calculus book that is free online, that might be worth taking a look at. It's part of MIT OCW. $\endgroup$
    – littleO
    Commented Dec 20, 2013 at 22:07
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    $\begingroup$ No, don't buy stewart... Stewart releases a new edition every year or two, making millions of dollars in the process. However, the editions haven't fundementaly changed from the first--most of the problems are even the same. $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 20, 2013 at 22:09
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    $\begingroup$ Not Calculus, but a math suggestion: take a look at Concrete Mathematics by Graham, Knuth, and Patashnik. I do not have the book (so I can't attest to its readability), but I would love to acquire it someday. It is a mixture of continuous and discrete mathematics, which is helpful for CS. $\endgroup$
    – apnorton
    Commented Dec 20, 2013 at 22:50

6 Answers 6


I don't have experience with answering questions here, but I have experience with learning mathematics by myself. You'll have to decide if you want an engineering-oriented book or a "pure-mathematics" rigorous approach to calculus.

If the former, engineers sometimes like the heavy glossy-paged books with photos of spaceships in them (like Stewart etc.). They tend to be calculation-oriented, somewhat lax on rigor (proofs omitted or glossed over) with occasional real world applications, and (to their credit perhaps) many graphs of functions plotted out. Albeit almost as many useless photos and flashy design elements. They also tend to be damn expensive.

If, however, you wanna get serious about it, you should make sure you have what Americans call "precalculus" in place. There are many books for this, for example Axler's, which is good but way too long for my taste. You, as a reader, can abridge it yourself - usually it helps not to read math linearly. Also, today you can even learn precalculus on Khan academy. And if you are past that, you might want a sort of general introduction to math, in order to get used to proofs, for example Liebeck's valuable book. Mathematics undergrads receive this intro-to-math material surreptitiously by taking a freshman course in discrete mathematics or elementary set-theory.

Next, there are many options to start learning calculus (ahem, analysis). There are classics that everyone sees recommendations for; I won't reiterate the names of famous apostles and babies, because they are good books but less user friendly than the modern ones.

I've had more success with the (usually non-American) way of approaching analysis by combining, from the outset, what Americans call "calculus" (more calculation oriented courses where you learn to integrate or differentiate various elementary functions, with a pinch of generality here and there) with the material of so-called "Analysis" courses. That is, to learn analysis rigorously in tandem with a healthy dose of specific examples (specific functions, say) and applications.

Hence my first recommendation is weird, and not often heard (it's also not old enough to be a classic): this odd-ball by Canuto-Tobacco, and its sequel. I say "oddball" because the translation from Italian to English is so bad, it's comical. But the treatment is rigorous, user friendly, and with many examples and solved exercises. Some canonical proofs were oddly left out, and are available as "internet supplements" from the authors' website (also in horrible translation) - a heroic attempt to save some paper perhaps.

After that you can go on to more advanced analysis books for which there are many recommendations on this website. I added this "strange" recommendation of a title because I felt nobody else would make it here, and this book has been valuable to me in studying on my own. Some advanced math students may find it too slow, and some engineer oriented students may find it too rigorous - so it's not for everyone. I would say it's for people who are interested in applications (within mathematics) and also in a precise treatment of canonical theories.

Good Luck.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Is the translation that bad? I failed to notice. Otherwise, this is a little gem. +1 $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 20, 2013 at 23:30
  • $\begingroup$ Yes, the translation is "idiomatic" (was obviously not carried out by an native speaker) - but who cares? I should have mentioned explicitly that this makes no difference as far as mathematical content is concerned. $\endgroup$
    – Antoshka
    Commented Dec 21, 2013 at 10:45
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    $\begingroup$ Your link to the "sequel" goes to a book of Zorich by mistake. $\endgroup$
    – KCd
    Commented Oct 4, 2014 at 0:05

If you want to learn Calculus, why not learn it properly and rigorously. With $\delta$'s and $\varepsilon$'s.

Get the book of Michael Spivak.

It is a bit advanced, but not impossible. It does not require any prerequisites, although, it would be useful to have some knowledge, say of Pre-calculus, and High School Algebra.

In this book you can also find a great collection of exercises: Easy, Intermediate, Hard and Very Hard ones.

And if you manage this book, you'll be really proud of yourself!


Calculus, while useful, is not as important to Computer Science as other branches of maths of the more discrete kind.


  • graph theory
  • game theory
  • boolean algebra
  • numerical methods
  • statistics
  • linear algebra, matrices, etc.

You're probably better of with a solid grounding in this stuff, rather than differential/integral calculus.

  • 16
    $\begingroup$ But learning the stuff in your list without a good grounding in calculus wil be hard. $\endgroup$ Commented Jan 28, 2015 at 19:06

I tend to agree with Brad that linear algebra is likely to be more useful to you than calculus. In the spirit of your question, however, Project Gutenberg has a number of gratis (and mostly libre) math books, including the second edition (1914) of Calculus Made Easy by Sylvanus Thompson and the third edition (1921) of A Course of Pure Mathematics by G. H. Hardy.

Thompson is a leisurely stroll through the mechanics of elementary differentiation and integration. Hardy is (in modern terms) a good theoretical calculus book, containing enough material and sophistication for a transitional real analysis course.

  • $\begingroup$ See maa.org/publications/maa-reviews/… for a review of Hardy's book. $\endgroup$
    – lhf
    Commented Dec 20, 2013 at 23:36
  • $\begingroup$ @lhf: Thank you for the review link. The reviewer's comments about Hardy's terminology are apt, but the Gutenberg version does at least use square brackets for closed intervals, and the usage of $\varepsilon$ and $\delta$ is modernized. :) $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 20, 2013 at 23:58
  • $\begingroup$ Thanks, I had assumed that the Gutenberg version was just a scan. Nice to see it typeset in TeX. $\endgroup$
    – lhf
    Commented Dec 21, 2013 at 0:09
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    $\begingroup$ Calculus Made Easy was a very interesting read. $\endgroup$
    – dansalmo
    Commented Dec 21, 2013 at 0:19
  • $\begingroup$ I just downloaded the Gutteberg book "Calculus made easy" oh my... what a lovely book! to quote: "The fools who write the textbooks of advanced mathematics—and they are mostly clever fools—seldom take the trouble to show you how easy the easy calculations are." Lovey ! $\endgroup$
    – Tomm P
    Commented Mar 16, 2021 at 8:38

Try Serge Lang's A First Course in Calculus.


Another great book is Introduction to Calculus and Classical Analysis by Omar Hijab. It contains many solved problems to show you how the reasoning is like and is well written.



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