I know this is a subjective question, but I need some opinions on a very good book for learning differential equations.

Ideally it should have a variety of problems with worked solutions and be easy to read.


  • $\begingroup$ I was unable to find an online copy of either of the books. $\endgroup$ – Finance Apr 16 '14 at 22:25
  • $\begingroup$ Try Ordinary Differential Equations by Barreira and Valls; need to probably be $2^{nd}$ to $3^{rd}$ year in a mathematics program though. Teaches the theory; solving equations is not something taught in of itself? Largely acquired as tools - usually in physics. $\endgroup$ – Chris K Apr 16 '14 at 22:26
  • $\begingroup$ I will only be using it for a very short period of time so I'd at least like to be able to see a sample of the contents before purchasing it. Is this the same book? (debian.fmi.uni-sofia.bg/~horozov/DifferentialEquations/…) $\endgroup$ – Finance Apr 16 '14 at 22:26
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    $\begingroup$ See this question. $\endgroup$ – Git Gud Apr 16 '14 at 22:32
  • $\begingroup$ Look around for lecture notes. Many course sites have past exams and homework (with solutions). Beats a trip to the bookstore any day. $\endgroup$ – vonbrand Apr 16 '14 at 22:57

I really loved Differential Equations With Applications and Historical Notes by George Simmons. It drastically changed my outlook about a large part of mathematics. For example, why do we spend so much time in real analysis studying convergence of power series? The subject is interesting on its own, but aside from the abstract interest, it's ultimately because we want to use those methods to understand power series solutions of differential equations.

The Simmons book is clearly written, and it not only makes the subject interesting but deeply fascinating. Great mathematicians like Gauss and Laplace were trying to solve problems of physics and engineering, in which differential equations are ubiquitous, and these problems are the primary motivation for a large part of analysis and topology. By page 30 Simmons has treated falling objects with air resistance and shown how to calculate terminal velocities. After spending all of high school doing falling-objects problems without air resistance, it was a relief to finally do them right. Another early highlight is the solution of the famous brachistochrone problem, something I had been wondering for years.

Many books have a series of dry exercises of the sort “Solve the equation … using the … method.” Simmons' exercises are juicy. It was fun just to read them, and each one got me excited to try to find out the answer. Here are some examples, all from chapter 1:

  • Consider a bead at the highest part of a circle in a vertical plane, and let that point be joined to any lower point on the circle by a straight wire, If the bead slides down the wire without friction, show that it will reach the circle in the same time regardless of the position of the lower point.

  • A chain 4 feet long starts with 1 foot hanging over the edge of a table. Neglect friction, and find the time for the chain to slide off the table.

  • A smooth football having the shape of a prolate spheroid 12 inches long and 6 inches thick is lying outdoors in a rainstorm. Find the paths along which the water will run down its sides.

  • The clepsydra, or ancient water clock, was a bowl from which water was allowed to escape through a small hole in the bottom. It was often used in Greek and Roman courts to time the speeches of lawyers, in order to keep them from talking too much. Find the shape it should have if the water level is to fall at a constant rate.

This one might be my favorite:

  • A destroyer is hunting a submarine in a dense fog. The fog lifts for a moment, discloses the submarine on the surface 3 miles away, and immediately descends. The speed of the destroyer is twice that of the submarine, and it is known that the latter will at once dive and depart at full speed in a straight course of unknown direction. What path should the destroyer follow to be certain of passing directly over the submarine? Hint: Establish a polar coordinate system with the origin at the point where the submarine was sighted.

I wouldn't even have realized that there was such a path, and I had to ponder for a while to persuade myself that there was.

The differential equations class I took as a youth was disappointing, because it seemed like little more than a bag of tricks that would work for a few equations, leaving the vast majority of interesting problems insoluble. Simmons' book fixed that.

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    $\begingroup$ You're right, those do sound like juicy questions! I might go see if there's a copy in my library, thanks for the suggestion! $\endgroup$ – CunningTF Apr 16 '14 at 23:05
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    $\begingroup$ I wanted to ask because it doesn't say explicitly, is this a good book for a first course in DE because I have only just finished by second calc. course? Thanks $\endgroup$ – Red Dec 19 '15 at 2:48

Check out following: *Schaum's Outline *Dummy's Guide *Tenenbaum and Pollard (Dover)

All of these cover basic intro ODE for a first look. All have lots of problems, worked solutions, and answers to the other problems. All are easy to read.

I don't think some of the other comments and suggestions were responsive to the conditions you mentioned ("Ideally it should have a variety of problems with worked solutions and be easy to read.") Instead it was people mentioning favorite books that are a bit harder than what you want.


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