I have heard that the book "Men of Mathematics" by E. Bell is a very entertaining text composed of several biographies of a number of influential mathematicians, and is in fact one of the most popular popular mathematics books to date. I have also heard that E. Bell received more than a little criticism for his writings, due to the large number of embellishments and historical inaccuracies, as well as the less than inclusive title and contents. Up until now, I have avoided "Men of Mathematics" for this reason.

I am quite interested in the history of mathematics, though, and would like to read a book with a similar subject matter to "Men of Mathematics", except one written less to entertain and more to educate, without such criticisms. I have already read around a bit on the subject, for example I have read Boyer's textbook, but haven't found a history book exclusively focused on studying the lives of influential figures, yet.

I understand that mathematics is collaborative, so the impact of these figures is less than the average casual followers of the subject would think, but I am interested in learning about them nonetheless.

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    $\begingroup$ You can try with John Stillwell, Mathematics and Its History (3rd ed 2010): each chapter ends with a Biographical Note dedicated to an eminent mathematicians (41 in total). $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 14, 2016 at 11:44
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    $\begingroup$ @MauroALLEGRANZA Ooh, that looks very nice, thank you! I feel like this could work quite well as an answer $\endgroup$
    – Nethesis
    Commented Jun 14, 2016 at 21:39

4 Answers 4


Try Journey Through Genius, by William Dunham.

Every chapter mixes historical account with a mathematical discussion of a landmark theorem.

For an account of contemporary mathematicians, try

Mathematical Lives: Protagonists of the Twentieth Century From Hilbert to Wiles, by Bartocci et al.

  • $\begingroup$ I second "Journey Through" Genius. I also think it's a great book. It's historically accurate and provides one with great educational value. $\endgroup$
    – Max Muller
    Commented Jun 15, 2016 at 21:04

Ioan James' "Remarkable Mathematicians: From Euler to von Neumann" complements Bartocci et al's book (mentioned in another answer) by providing fairly good biographical sketches of mathematicians (60 different profiles) over a time period from roughly 1700 - 1950.

Ronald Calinger's "Classics of Mathematics" contains short (1-2 page) profiles of many mathematicians going back to Proclus and on into the 20th century. In my opinion, the quality of the coverage tapers off noticeably as it moves beyond about 1850 or so, but the essays covering the development of mathematics prior to this time are quite well written. The excerpts of original published works (translated to English) are the distinguishing feature of this book.

The MacTutor History of Mathematics archive, a comprehensive, well-written, and reliable on-line resource, can be used as a supplement to the biographical sketches given in these books.


I highly recommend "Calculus Gems" by George F. Simmons (1992, McGraw-Hill).

This contains two parts: one about the memorable mathematicians, and one detailing (brilliantly and accessibly) the actual mathematics they produced.

Requires more mathematical literacy than most collections of boigraphies, purely because of the actual mathematics in it, but it's accessible to a bright high-school student, in particular one likely to be going on to do mathematics at a higher level.

A number of these biographical sketches have been taken and revised from his earlier "Differential Equations with Applications and Historical Notes" -- he was never a man to waste a good paragraph if it could be reused to good effect somewhere else.

Be warned: he has opinions which he is not afraid of voicing. As an example, he is somewhat dismissive of Descartes, whom he does not rate highly at all

In my opinion, George Simmons is highly underrated.


The following detailed article counts as an alternative to Bell as it paints a more accurate picture of the history of analysis and also analyzes Bell's fantasy about George (Berkeley) battling the dragon of inconsistent infinitesimals: here.

  • $\begingroup$ This is not an answer to the question, which asked for alternatives to the book by Bell. I suggest you turn this post into a comment. $\endgroup$
    – Danu
    Commented Jun 14, 2016 at 8:32
  • $\begingroup$ I edited it to fit the format of an answer. @Danu $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 14, 2016 at 12:17

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