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Five Free Calculus Textbooks

timothy posted more than 10 years ago | from the finest-kind dept.

Education 430

Ben Crowell writes: "The economics of college textbooks is goofy, because the person who picks the book isn't the person who has to pay for it. Combined with the increasing consolidation of the publishing industry, this has blown the lid off of textbook prices over the last decade. But remember what the World-Wide Web was basically about before the Dot-Com Detour? It wasn't about marketing dog food, it was about democratizing publishing. Many textbook authors these days are using the internet to bypass the traditional publishing system, making their books available for free downloading. Although MIT's Open Courseware project gets most of the press, the movement started before that, and is going strong. In this article, I've reviewed five calculus textbooks that are either free as in speech or free as in beer." Read on for Crowell's take on each of the five books he's selected -- and pass the review on to any math teachers you know.

First-Year Calculus Notes
author Paul Garrett
pages 70
rating 7/10
summary Would make a good concise refresher.

The author provides this book in PDF format. As far as I can tell from the somewhat ambiguous notice on his web page, the book is intended to be licensed under the GPL copyleft license. That warms my heart as an open-source enthusiast, but it's slightly strange, for a couple of reasons. First, the GPL is a software license, and is less suitable as a copyleft license for books than the GFDL or a CC license. Also, the source code of the book isn't available (it appears to have been done in LaTeX), which I think makes it legally impossible under the GPL to redistribute the book, whereas the author's intent in GPL-ing it was presumably to make it freely distributable. Just as I was in the process of submitting this review to Slashdot, the author replied to an e-mail I'd sent him about this, and it sounds like he's interested in clearing up this issue, and really does want his book to be free as in speech.

This is a lively and very readable treatment of basic calculus. At 70 pages, it's a welcome antidote to the usual bloated textbooks, and the topics that are included match up pretty well with my own opinions of what it's really vital for a student to know after taking a calculus course. The tone is conversational without being condescending or cutesy, and the author almost always explains why he's introducing something, rather than just throwing it at the reader. (An unfortunate exception is the opening section on inequalities.) There is no attempt at rigor whatsoever, which I consider to be a feature, not a bug. Applications are discussed, although not enough for my taste (and I have to suppress my gag reflex every time I see a calculus book that insists on presenting the acceleration of gravity in non-metric units).

Although the book comes with some of the paraphernalia of a complete college textbook, such as homework problems, it's probably not the kind of book that another professor could just adopt as a stand-alone text, nor would I recommend it for someone learning calculus on her own for the first time. The title suggests that the author had in mind more of a memory aid, or a way to keep students from having to scribble madly in their notebooks for an hour and a half at a stretch. It lacks an index and illustrations, and there are some misfeatures in terms of organization: the chapters aren't numbered, and the homework problems are scattered around where they're hard to find. In some cases it sounds as though the first time a word or concept is used, he's assuming the reader has already heard it defined. I would, however, recommend this book to someone who needs to refresh her memory of calculus, and doesn't want to spend hours wading through epsilons and deltas to get to the highlights. It might also be a good option for the student who is completely broke, and needs a reference to use in place of an officially required text that carries an exploitative price tag. Although there are other calculus textbooks that can be downloaded without paying, this is the only one I'm aware of that follows the typical order of topics, and is also (AFAICT) copylefted, so that we can be assured it needn't evaporate if the author signs a publishing contract, or loses interest in maintaining his web site.

Difference Equations to Differential Equations: An Introduction to Calculus
author Dan Sloughter
pages 600
rating 6/10
summary Takes too long to get there.

Like Garrett's text, this one appears to have been done in LaTeX, is licensed under the GPL, and appears to suffer from the same legal problems, because it's not available in source form.

The book is well written, and seems to have been well designed for practical classroom use. The approach is visual and intuitive, and there are lots and lots of graphs and numerical calculations. I felt, however, that it took a long time to get going, and the idiosyncratic selection of topics might make it difficult to use at many schools. Although the very first page gives a nice clear explanation of what calculus is about, we then have to wait until about page 136 to learn any calculus. I say "about" because of the inconvenient way in which the book is split up into 54 separate PDF files, each of which has page numbers starting from 1. I had to estimate page number 136 by weighing part of the book on a postal scale. Related to this problem is the fact that the book has no index or table of contents.

The book uses many numerical examples, which gives it a modern feeling . After all, calculus was invented by Newton and Leibniz because they needed to do calculations in closed form, but nowadays it's more natural to solve many problems on a computer, using a spreadsheet or a programming language. The book has a problem, however, in integrating the computer stuff with the didactic parts and the homework problems. No indication is given of how the numerical examples were actually computed. The author may consider it a trivial task to set up a spreadsheet or write a ten-line program in Python or Mathematica, but it's not so trivial for many students, and they will need extensive guidance from elsewhere to be able to carry out such computations for themselves. This makes the text incomplete in practical terms: any instructor wanting to use it would have to come up with extensive support materials to go with it. It also contributes to my sense that the book lacks focus. Students have a hard enough time learning the basic concepts and techniques of integration and differentiation, but to use this book, they would also have to learn about computer programming and difference equations. Adding to the bloat is the author's tendency to discuss every possible pathological case before moving on to the main event. It's a little like a parent trying to explain sex to his child, but feeling obliged to explain foot fetishes before getting on with where babies come from.

The examples that students are expected to do numerically also presuppose quite a bit of resourcefulness and insight. For instance, one of the homework problems asks the student to sum the series 4(1-1/3+1/5-1/7+...) numerically, adding up "...a sufficient number of terms to enable you to guess the value of the sum," which turns out to be pi. The trouble is that over 600 terms are required to get the sum to settle down in the second decimal place, which is about the minimum I'd want to see to convince me it was pi. Pity the poor student who first tries 10 terms on a calculator, then 50 terms on a spreadsheet, and then finally realizes he's going to need to write a Python program to get the job done. Of course, some students might enjoy the process, but my experience (teaching college science majors taking introductory physics) is that the majority don't consider computers to be fun.

Lectures on Calculus
author Evgeny Shchepin
pages 143
rating 2/10
summary Not for consumption by mere students.

This book is from a set of lectures on calculus given by visiting professor Evgeny Shchepin at Uppsala University in 2001. The first obstacle potential readers will encounter is that the book is provided in PostScript format, with hideous bitmapped type 3 fonts embedded. This makes it virtually impossible to view the book on a monitor in any legible representation, although it looks fine when you print it out. The typical Windows or MacOS user will give up long before that point. This is a shame, because it's not at all difficult these days to get LaTeX to output Adobe Acrobat files that are viewable on virtually any computer, and are legible on the screen. There is no index, and virtually no graphs or other figures.

The main question in my mind is for whom this book was written. This deep, dark forest of mathematical symbols, interspersed with ungrammatical English, is meant to follow the historical development of the subject, but it never makes it clear why the historical route is the right one to follow. There are many seemingly pointless digressions.

Is it possible that this book was meant for young people taking their first calculus course? The presence of end-of-chapter homework problems would seem to imply that it was. If so, I feel sorry for them. Although it's cute that the author manages to develop integrals before limits, and derivatives only at the very end, I somehow doubt that real, live students would read this book and exclaim, "We sure are lucky to be learning calculus using this novel order of topics!" Most of the problems begin with the words "Prove that...," and neither the text nor the problems give any of the standard applications to biology, economics, physics, etc.

Elementary Calculus: An Approach Using Infinitesimals
author Jerome H. Keisler
pages 992
rating 10/10
summary I wish I'd learned calculus from it!

Textbooks are usually unoriginal, because most teachers are conservative in their choices. They get used to teaching a subject a certain way, and don't want to change. This is a calculus textbook with a very unusual approach. It was published in 1976, and evidently was successful enough, despite its idiosyncracy, to justify a second edition a decade later. Its publisher, however, eventually allowed it to go out of print. The copyright has reverted to the author, and he has made it available in digital form on his web site. The digital book consists of pages scanned in from a printed copy and assembled into an Acrobat file, so it's a big download, and you can't do some things with it, such as searching the text for a particular word.

The title leaves no doubt that the book is different. Whereas most textbooks these days define derivatives and integrals in terms of limits, this one uses infinitesimals. The real numbers are generalized to make a number system called the hyperreal numbers, which include infinitesimally small numbers as well as infinitely large ones. Essentially, this represents a return to the way Newton and Leibniz originally conceptualized the calculus, but with more rigor.

I don't know about other people, but when I learned calculus, I got very uneasy when we got to the Leibniz notation. My teacher said that dy/dx wasn't really one number divided by another, but rather an abbreviation for the limit of the quantity y/x. That wasn't so bad, but what really made me queasy was when he then suggested that you could usually get the right answer by treating these dx and dy thingies as if they were numbers. The scary part was that word "usually." What was legal and what wasn't? How many sizes of infinitesimals were there? Was it legal to say that 1/dx was infinite? What operations would lead to paradoxes? What about proofs that used infinite numbers to show that 1=2? The wonderful thing about this book is that you end up knowing exactly what you can and can't do with infinities and infinitesimals, and you get to use the Leibniz notation in all its intuitively appealing glory. For instance, the chain rule really can be proved simply by writing (dz/dy)(dy/dx)=dz/dx, simply canceling the dy's.

It would be interesting to see how students reacted to this book when learning calculus from scratch. I suspect that they'd have an easier time with many of the concepts like implicit differentiation, which seems so awkward in the traditional approach, but they might be scared a little by the initial development of the hyperreal number system. The book develops the hypperreal system axiomatically, which left me yearning for more of a constructive method. Then again, we develop the rational and real numbers axiomatically in high school, so maybe it's not such a big issue. My initial unease was cleared up by a few crucial examples:

  • If H and K are infinite, then H-K may be infinite or finite -- it depends on which infinite numbers H and K are.
  • If H is infinite, then (2H+1)/(H+1) isn't equal to 2, but it differs infinitesimally from 2.
  • (H+1)1/2-(H-1)1/2 is infinitesimal.
After that, I began to see the hyperreal numbers as simply another tool for calculating things.

I confess, however, to a little residual indigestion at the way the author develops the integral. He introduces finite Reimann sums first, and gives several numerical examples. But next, instead of taking the limit of sums with more and more terms, he takes the finite sum with n terms, and replaces n with an infinite integer. Instant vertigo!

This is a wonderful, original textbook, and I hope it remains free on the web forever -- it's not copylefted, so unfortunately it may disappear if the author stops maintaining his web site.

The Calculus Bible
author G.S. Gill
pages 370
rating 3/10
summary Incomplete, and badly written.

I'm reviewing this book in February of 2004. It's clearly not a finished product, and I'm not sure whether or not the author is still actively working on it. The book is available from the Brigham Young University math department's server, but the author isn't on the department's list of faculty, which makes me think he may have moved on to another job and abandoned the book. It's provided as a PDF file. There is no copyright page and no licensing agreement, so it's hard to know the book's real legal status.

The path through the topics is pretty standard for an introductory calculus course: a review of functions and trigonometry, followed by limits, differentiation, and integration. There is a good selection of problems, although to my taste as a physicist far too few are applied to anything useful. There is a table of contents, but no index. There are no illustrations; sprinkled throughout the text are little placeholders for graphs that just say "graph."

Although the problems I've referred to so far are ones that could be fixed if the author continued to work on the book, I feel that there are some more fundamental problems with this text that will not go away unless it is extensively rewritten. The style is extremely dry, and moreover the author has a habit of introducing concepts without any explanation or preparation. A symptom of this is that the student is expected to grind through the first hundred pages without any clear statement about what calculus is, what it's good for, or even whether the initial chapters are calculus (they're not). Equal prominence is given to topics that I would consider vital (the fundamental theorem of calculus) and others that I would label as trivial (tabulations of facts) or esoteric (the Dedekind cut property).

The Leibniz notation, dy/dx, is given with only this explanation "To emphasize the fact that the derivatives are taken with respect to the independent variable x, we use the following notation, as is customary..." Huh? So are these dx and dy things numbers? Is dy/dx the quotient of them?

Even if the missing graphs were included, the approach would still be relentlessly symbolic, rather than visual. For instance, integration by parts is introduced without ever giving its geometric interpretation.

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The GNAA Presents another FP! (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8499867)

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FUCK THE GNAA (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8499910)

the gnaa is for losers who have no social skills. do not support the gnaa. they blow. DOWN WITH THE GNAA.

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Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8499872)


See any serious problems with this story? (5, Funny)

strictnein (318940) | more than 10 years ago | (#8499873)

See any serious problems with this story? Email our on-duty editor.

Yeah... it's an f'en review of five calc books. The author should be committed and never allowed to enter society again.

Re:See any serious problems with this story? (0, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8499923)

And the people who read em for fun and pleasure... Anyone that curls up with a nice diffy q's book with a glass of wine should be locked up sooo deeply that air has to be pumped to em....

Re:See any serious problems with this story? (5, Funny)

aePrime (469226) | more than 10 years ago | (#8499983)

So, you're saying there's a limit as reviewed_calc_books --> infinity such that in the relation

reviewedd_cal c_books

author_insanity approaches infinity?

Re:See any serious problems with this story? (1)

necrogram (675897) | more than 10 years ago | (#8500001)

talk about self abuse. I hate to see their idea of fun

More useful than you think (5, Informative)

gravityZ (210748) | more than 10 years ago | (#8500111)

I would have killed for a slashdot story like this 3 or 4 years ago when I was making my calc requirements. One of the best things about using the web for study is the diversity of material out there. You aren't just limited to the dead tree on your desk to help you understand the material.

BTW, Anyone studying math who hasn't been turned on to [] should definitely check it out.

G. W. Bush: The Phony President (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8500256)

Cost of U.S. "involvement" in Iraq: over $100 billion

Cost of Halliburton contracts: over $10 billion

Cost of "President"'s salary: over $300,000

Listening to the stupidity vomited by
The Cardboard President [] ; Priceless !!!!!

Kilgore Trout

Democratizing publishing? (5, Funny)

Kenja (541830) | more than 10 years ago | (#8499890)

"But remember what the World-Wide Web was basically about before the Dot-Com Detour? It wasn't about marketing dog food, it was about democratizing publishing."

It was about porn and you know it. Then again, perhaps that IS democratizing publishing. Never mind.

Re:Democratizing publishing? (-1, Redundant)

Roger Keith Barrett (712843) | more than 10 years ago | (#8499961)




huh? I thought just mentioning porn should get me a +4, Funny!

MY EQUATION (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8499898)

Ben Crowell = Dork

Parent Moderation courtesy of Ben Crowell (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8499944)


wow (3, Funny)

first.last (751698) | more than 10 years ago | (#8499903)

fell asleep after the third paragraph....pretty much what I did in calc and analytical statistics classes in college.

modding down & BALLS (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8500229)

um, you can't mod and post in the same discussion, i don't think.

one MORE time (-1, Offtopic)

first.last (751698) | more than 10 years ago | (#8500304)

god, right click on "reply to" link, open in new window.

Price != Quality (5, Insightful)

elid (672471) | more than 10 years ago | (#8499925)

A calculus textbook that costs $100 to buy doesn't mean it's worth a dime. My college used one of the more popular textbooks last year, and it was one of the worst textbooks I've ever encountered.

Re:Price != Quality (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8499940)

who are you voting for in the presidential election of 2004?

Re:Price != Quality (5, Insightful)

tkajstura (721012) | more than 10 years ago | (#8499999)

I agree. Many textbooks are used because of ties to the faculty of the deptartment. For instance, if a professor at a given university writes a textbook, and has a lot of say in what goes on in the deptartment, you can be sure that soon enough most other professors in the deptartment will be using their book. It's just the way university politics go.

Re:Price != Quality (5, Informative)

SkunkPussy (85271) | more than 10 years ago | (#8500305)

The publishers send loads of books out for free to lecturers in the hopes that the lecturer will recommend this text to the students that year.
This ends in the ludicrous situation of some lecturers having 3 different editions of the same text, and the competing/equivalent books from other publishers.
Some of the lecturers handle this well by giving surplus books away to those who ask.

Re:Price != Quality (5, Funny)

zenetik (750376) | more than 10 years ago | (#8500021)

I took an investment class a couple of semesters ago and the textbook cost $120 brand new. With a resale value of about half that, the book itself was a terrible investment.

Re:Price != Quality (3, Insightful)

Rick the Red (307103) | more than 10 years ago | (#8500081)

Yeah, but it was the textbook they required, so you had to buy it. None of these five alternatives would do you a damn bit of good when the Prof said, "Read pages 128-154 and do problems 3.15 through 3.24 by tomorrow."

Re:Price != Quality (5, Informative)

KingOfBLASH (620432) | more than 10 years ago | (#8500204)

That's a very good point. Some years ago (when I was still in school), I found out (thanks to the strong dollar and subsidies or something), you could buy textbooks from for 25% to 50% of what you could buy in the US. So I figured, well and good, and bought all my books online. I saved several hundred dollars -- but had to buy a chemistry text book here in the US again, because I was shipped the international edition -- and the problem sets were completely different. <sighs />

Re:Price != Quality (1)

Tassach (137772) | more than 10 years ago | (#8500092)


Reading the reviews above, the impression I'm left with is that they all suck, to varying degrees. How about a review of a Calculus book, suitable for self-instruction, which DOESN'T suck? (Of course, that presupposes that such a beast actually exists, or is even possible to create). Major bonus points for a single book which teaches the related physics concepts alongside the related mathmatical concepts.

Sometimes it is worth it. (1)

DenOfEarth (162699) | more than 10 years ago | (#8500238)

The one thing I like about the Calculus book I bought in my first year of university was that it was useful for at least three or four courses, and it has served as a good reference well into my graduate studies. I payed about 125 (cdn$) for it, and it's definitely been worth it.

The one thing I don't get about courses teaching basic calculus is that the material hasn't really changed much in some 10's to 100's of years, meaning in theory, that any solid calculus book (perhaps by judging reviews on Amazon or whatever), should cover everything that you would need to know for a differential or integral calculus course. The problem is, the teacher sets the book, and that's what everyone buys...simply because that's the way people are.

To the reviewer (0, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8499926)

Ben Crowell, you've reviewed 5 calculus textbooks. Can you help me with my homework?

Statistics Textbooks? (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8499927)

I find that in my present line of work, statistics references would be more helpful.

Does any such beast exist?

Re:Statistics Textbooks? (3, Informative)

BoomerSooner (308737) | more than 10 years ago | (#8500161)

This book [] is worth every dollar I spent.

The author is nice too. When I couldn't figure out a problem instead of helping me, he pointed me to the pages I missed in his book (a round about way of making sure I actually bought the book no doubt, but helpful none the less).

Re:Statistics Textbooks? (4, Informative)

Cornelius the Great (555189) | more than 10 years ago | (#8500162)

I don't know about statistics, but I found this site [] helpful.

Then again, I'm more interested in theoretical mathematics (abstract alebra, topology, etc) than statistics. You'll find a basic probability text that may or may not help, depending on your ability.

A major missing niche in online publishing... (5, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8500231)

I am a statistician of sorts (my training isn't in statistics per se, but that's what I do research on), and I'm sorry to say that I'm not aware of any good online statistics references.

There are some sites that come close.

Mathworld [] , for example, has some excellent reference material on statistics, but beyond some very basic or introductory material, it tends to become sparse quickly. It's typical of much of what's out there: lots of material on mathematics, but not statistics in particular. I also have ethical objections to Wolfram, and so feel uncomfortable supporting any site hosted by his company.

PlanetMath [] : is a good alternative to Mathworld, filling in some material that Mathworld lacks. It has the benefit of being open. However, PlanetMath suffers from the problem of being extremely disorganized. Many of the entries seem incomplete or lacking in depth. Finally, like Mathworld, it doesn't treat statistics as much as other branches of math.

HyperStat [] is a good online resource for introductory statistics. I've actually referred to it a couple of times in my research when I can't remember exactly what some formula is, and don't trust my memory of it. It covers introductory material in depth, but doesn't go into fundamentals or intermediate or advanced material. It's also sort of commercial, disorganized, and poorly designed.

Statsoft Electronic Textbook [] covers more advanced material, but doesn't seem to provide much explanation or background. It's really more a guide to doing analyses in STATISTICA than anything else.

Finally, I've noticed the Statistics Glossary [] more and more, but it really is a glossary more than an explanatory reference. It also doesn't get further than very introductory topics.

In short, there is a huge niche for a comprehensive, open, in depth statistics resource ala Mathworld or PlanetMath. Perhaps PlanetMath will become more organized and complete. I've thought about contributing to PlanetMath, but I don't feel completely comfortable with it.

My deepest sympathies for you sacrifice (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8499932)

This is the greatest act sacrifice by a reviewer since that Washington Post guy compared and contrasted the 5 latest colonoscopy devices.

Re:My deepest sympathies for you sacrifice (1)

Otter (3800) | more than 10 years ago | (#8500131)

I think he came up with "It's a little like a parent trying to explain sex to his child, but feeling obliged to explain foot fetishes before getting on with where babies come from." and went looking for an opportunity to use it.

It _is_ a superbly turned phrase.

COMMUNISM! (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8499936)

This is communist! You should have to pay (out the nose!) for every piece of infomation you know. I am going to call up my friends in congress right now and get this fixed NOW billg

Re:COMMUNISM! (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8499964)

u r s0 k3wl. will u h4\/ buts3x w/ m3

All I ask of a first year calculus book: (4, Insightful)

bad enema (745446) | more than 10 years ago | (#8499945)

- Lots of clear, thorough examples
- Minimize use of crazy symbols high school kids have never seen before. Or at least have a reference where you can look up what they mean.

That's all.

Re:All I ask of a first year calculus book: (4, Insightful)

garcia (6573) | more than 10 years ago | (#8500044)

- That the problems actually reflect what was "taught" in the examples.

I loved being "taught" what the examples showed and given a graded homework assignment only to find that 90% of the problems could not be solved with the given examples.

Exactly. (2, Insightful)

bad enema (745446) | more than 10 years ago | (#8500141)

The assignment problems can't be solved with the given examples unless you're intelligent enough to extend your knowledge to the point where you can come up with a solution.

What ended up happening was we usually just copied off this one smart guy who did all the extending.

I guess T.A's are supposed to help you close the gap, but I would honestly have a few more difficult examples than a bunch of gimme exercises, which are always the ones the prof chooses to teach during lecture since they are the easiest and cause the least amount of confusion for the class.

Re:Exactly. (1, Insightful)

garcia (6573) | more than 10 years ago | (#8500155)

yeah, they cause the least amount of confusion because they are already explained in the examples.

I am sorry, but at the Calc level I am unable to extrapolate the knowledge gained by 4 examples to cover 15 different problems.

It's been an issue with EVERY single Calc book I have seen (6 or 7 IIRC). Math books made for students by math professors. Really doesn't work too well.

Re:All I ask of a first year calculus book: (1)

Larry David (738420) | more than 10 years ago | (#8500254)

Good point. Is there any place where you can easily learn what all the symbols mean? Symbols are the whole reason I had trouble with higher mathematics.

YAY CALCULUS (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8499949)

Who fucking cares?

Re:YAY CALCULUS (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8500008)

i did your mom last night! it was fabulous! she's a milf!

You can contribute too. (5, Informative)

Black Parrot (19622) | more than 10 years ago | (#8499974)

The Wikipedia group has started a wiki textbook site [] , though the ones I've looked at are not very far along yet.

However, if you've got expertise you'd like to contribute to the public, that might be an easy place for you to do it.

Sell them (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8499981)

Package all 5 documents as a set and sell them to the schools.... Profit!

Books (2, Interesting)

PeaceTank (758859) | more than 10 years ago | (#8499984)

At least some people in the educational system have finally realized that open source is the future. If all educators were like this the classes would be much better. I would love to have a class based on a virtual textbook. Even more, I would love to see some school computers running Linux instead of Windoze. Not only would it save the school system money, but in all reality, it would make the teaching better. There would be no more "lost" papers because windows decided it didn't like you 20 page midterm and decided you needed to fail economics. Not only that, but it could finally introduce the masses to Linux, which everyone can agree would be a good thing.

Re:Books (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8500072)

>At least some people in the educational system have finally realized that open source is the future. If all educators were like this the classes would be much better.

Student: "I have a question about..."
Teacher: "RTFM!!!"
Student: "I did and I still don't understand ..."
Teacher: "Google IS YOUR FRIEND!"
Student: "I came up with 31, 208 results, most of them trying to sell me ..."
Teacher: "N3WBI3!!!"

Re:Books (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8500099)

There would be no more "lost" papers because windows decided it didn't like you 20 page midterm and decided you needed to fail economics.

Well, if you're a cute-ish, stoned-looking girl, maybe Red Hat can make a Lunix Switcher ad with you.

I'm guessing you're not, though.

Re:Books (2, Insightful)

theparallax (745185) | more than 10 years ago | (#8500170)

What does open source have to do with text books? I can't remember anyone compiling a calc book in the recent past. If you're talking about unlimited educational fair use, then please say what you mean and mean what you say. Let's not turn 'open source' into 'organic' or 'natural' or 'chemicals'.

Applied Math (5, Informative)

1fitz2many (409956) | more than 10 years ago | (#8499986)

Sean Mauch [] has a free online book covering several areas of applied mathematics. It's not complete, but I've found it useful. The page for the book is here [] .

If you like free calculus books... (5, Informative)

Blackaxis (757860) | more than 10 years ago | (#8499988) has some free introductory physics texts that are pretty interesting.

Re:If you like free calculus books... (5, Interesting)

An Onerous Coward (222037) | more than 10 years ago | (#8500173)

Note that the author of the review is also the author of the Light and Matter [] books. Very cool guy. Erm, okay. I have a rather odd definition of "cool," but what he's doing could become very important.

Free as in Beer? (0, Offtopic)

samsmithnz (702471) | more than 10 years ago | (#8499993)

"Free as in beer"

Where do you live? I want to move there!

Free as in Beer? (5, Funny)

RedA$$edMonkey (688732) | more than 10 years ago | (#8499998)

Free beer and calculus books leads to a dangerous combination:

Drinking and Deriving.

Re:Free as in Beer? (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8500056)

Ha HA HA Ha HA ... HA ... HA ... ... ... HA.

Well ... that's not really funny.

Clickable Links (5, Informative)

Poisonous Drool (526798) | more than 10 years ago | (#8500007)

Re:Clickable Links (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8500224)

Thanks for the direct links

Somehow... (3, Funny)

Sideshow Coward (732864) | more than 10 years ago | (#8500018)

I can't picture Homer saying "Mmmmmmm... free math. *drool*

Aaaarrrgggghhhhh! (1, Funny)

DoctorScooby (669432) | more than 10 years ago | (#8500024)

Jeezus, just when the nightmares and waking up screaming due to my high school calculus humiliation had finally stopped, Slashdot goes and stirs the pain pot. Hey, Slashdot! Here's a good next article fo you! "The true love of Scooby's life married another man!" Post that one and give the knife another twist, why don't ya?

Damn calculus and trains travelling north from Boston at 35 miles an hour... Damn you, oh mysterious, insane calculus!

Great, except... (5, Insightful)

absurdist (758409) | more than 10 years ago | (#8500038)

...for many professors, writing textbooks provides a serious boost to their salary. I had several courses in which the professor not only wrote the text, but made serious revisions every year in order to keep his revenue stream up. So not only could you not shop around to find a better price on a new text nor buy a used copy to keep your costs down, the resale value at the end of the semester was zip.

Re:Great, except... (2, Troll)

happyfrogcow (708359) | more than 10 years ago | (#8500215)

Not only that, but you only get one side of the story when the teacher is also the author. In classes I took where the teacher wasn't the author, the teacher would often say, "now this is the way he does it, but this is an easier|faster|more intuitive way to do it." When the teacher is the author, your stuck usually learning only one way to do things, which is often the way it makes sense to someone who has known the subject for 30 years, and not always suitable to a newbie.

Re:Great, except... (1)

mdielmann (514750) | more than 10 years ago | (#8500226)

Yep, that's one definition of self-centred bastard...

Re:Great, except... (2, Insightful)

Tassach (137772) | more than 10 years ago | (#8500228)

What's worse is when the professor uses your class as the beta test for his new book. That way you get to pay for the privilidge of proofreading his book for him.

I always hated taking classes where the professor wrote the book -- there was never any point in going to class, because everything they said in class was in the book verbatim. Call me idealistic, but I expect a professor to fill in the gaps the book leaves and to help me understand the difficult concepts.

Re:Great, except... (1)

bear_phillips (165929) | more than 10 years ago | (#8500235)

I understand what you mean about college books. Can the same be said about elementary and high school books. Anyone know how elementary books are written? I had always guessed they were written by the staff of some mindless corporation.

Re:Great, except... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8500253)

Wouldn't that be a conflict of interest?

Re:Great, except... (2, Funny)

happyfrogcow (708359) | more than 10 years ago | (#8500277)

Wouldn't that be a conflict of interest?

No, they're usually only interested in one thing.

Bookmark Story (2, Interesting)

superpulpsicle (533373) | more than 10 years ago | (#8500041)

The college bookstore near me used to give out free bookmarks for every book they sold.

They later stopped the trend because students complained about how on average you read 10 pages out of every book you purchased for each class.

The bookstore figured if people are just buying the books cause the professor said so... and the students never intend on really reading it. They mind as well maximize profit by a few cents.

Re:Bookmark Story (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8500296)

Unintelligent drivel. How would you have any idea what "the bookstore" was thinking? This does not sound plausible.

Some proefessors have great orginal lectures and expect students to do additional readings to expand their minds, and in turn these students complain that the book was useless.

Other professors have brilliant detailed lectures, and in turn these students complain that the professor follows the book too closely (as so the book is once again useless).

real analysis (1)

TedCheshireAcad (311748) | more than 10 years ago | (#8500048)

What about calculus from a real analysis approach? That's the best way to get a solid grasp on how it all works (imho).

Hell hath no place in American primary (5, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8500054)

and high school textbooks.

But then again you can't find anyone riding on a yacht or playing polo in the pages of an American textbook either. The texts also can't say someone has a boyish figure, or is a busboy, or is blind, or suffers a birth defect, or is a biddy, or the best man for the job, a babe, a bookworm, or even a barbarian.

All these words are banned from U.S. textbooks on the grounds that they either elitist (polo, yacht) sexist (babe, boyish figure), offensive (blind, bookworm) ageist (biddy) or just too strong (hell which is replaced with darn or heck). God is also a banned word in the textbooks because he or she is too religious.

To get the full 500-word list of what is banned and why, consult "The Language Police," a new book by New York University professor of education Dianne Ravitch, a former education official in President George H.W. Bush's administration and a consultant to the Clinton administration.

She says she stumbled on her discovery of what's allowed and not allowed by accident because publishers insist that they do not impose censorship on their history and English textbook authors but merely apply rules of sensitivity -- which have expanded mightily since first introduced in the 1970s to weed out gender and racial bias.

reviewer (5, Insightful)

happyfrogcow (708359) | more than 10 years ago | (#8500060)

Who is the reviewer and what is his math background? what made it possible for him to draw these conclusions for each book? Just curious. The conclusions I can draw from his reviews would vary depending on if I were receiving the insight of a university math professor, a grad student, a practicing engineer, a regular student, and so on...

Re:reviewer (5, Informative)

happyfrogcow (708359) | more than 10 years ago | (#8500104)

is it this Ben Cowell, from

Name: Ben Crowell
Bio: I teach physics and astronomy at Fullerton College, a community college in southern California. I come fully equipped with a PhD in physics from Yale, but I more fondly remember my undergraduate years at UC Berkeley. On the rare occasions when I'm away from my Linux box, I like to play jazz saxophone.

min0s 4, troll) (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8500069)

could Save it support GNAA, 40,000 workstations Join in. It can be to die. I will jam From the OpenBSD 8eal problems numbers continue

*** SPOILER WARNING *** (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8500076)


Re:*** SPOILER WARNING *** (1)

Nasarius (593729) | more than 10 years ago | (#8500265)

I thought the real plot twist was when you found out that f'(x) = dx

Wheelock's Latin Grammar (5, Insightful)

cardshark2001 (444650) | more than 10 years ago | (#8500106)

I took Latin in college, which was a mistake, but that's not what this post is about.

It's about the fact that every single year, Wheelock comes out with a new and improved Latin textbook, making the old ones obsolete, so that I couldn't sell mine back to the school store and recoup a small portion of my investment.

Now, when was the last time Latin grammar changed? About 1900 years ago? They could use Latin grammar texts from 50 years ago, and they'd be as good today as they were then. It seems to me that professors are complicit in this little scam.

The same goes for calculus. My calculus text was obsolete by the time I finished the course. Did calculus change? Did they put in some brand new groundbreaking stuff about measuring curves? No, they just wanted to make sure I couldn't sell back my book for others to buy more cheaply than the "new" one.

At the University of Texas, the cost of my books made up at least 30% of my total tuition costs. How insane is that? It's a racket, plain and simple.

Re:Wheelock's Latin Grammar (2, Interesting)

CRCulver (715279) | more than 10 years ago | (#8500286)

Latin grammar remains the same, but the method for teaching it in many American universities changes very quickly. American Latin teaching is very suceptive to fads, the majority of which turn out to be very effective and often negatively impact the education students involved. The method presented in the latest edition is wildly different than Wheelock's original method of the 50's.

If you don't like paying for a grammar, and can deal with the rote-learning method of a century ago, check out Textkit [] , a project which offers PDFs of some of the most respected Latin and Greek textbooks and readers which have now fallen into public domain. The Greek composition book and the selections from the Septuagint are superb.

What is Calculus for? (1, Interesting)

MalaclypseTheYounger (726934) | more than 10 years ago | (#8500120)

I failed Calc twice in college, and gave up on it. I love Math, mostly because I know what I can use it for (Geometry, Algebra, Trig, etc).

I could never figure out why Calculus would ever be of any use to me. Do any fellow Slashdotters have any examples of when Calculus came in handy in a real-life situation? (Rocket Scientists and Astrophysicists need not reply)

Re:What is Calculus for? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8500273)

You don't need calculus if you're only dealing with 16th-century technology.

Re:What is Calculus for? (1)

gregarican (694358) | more than 10 years ago | (#8500280)

I'm not sure why this was modded down. I tend to agree. Just recently I started self-paced learning on topics that I'd been poor at in the past. Higher mathematics is a perfect example. I was thinking about it the other day and couldn't come up with what math --- other than the four basic functions (addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division) and maybe really basic algebra --- being an average adult requires. That's why my college Calculus learning is totally lost now when I look at this subject as a 35-year-old.

What's other folks' takes on this? Other subjects like Literature, History, etc. tend to have stuck with me more for sure.

EE students (2, Informative)

jaxdahl (227487) | more than 10 years ago | (#8500122)

If you're taking introductionary electric circuit classes, or classes with advanced semiconductor stuff such as transistors (devices here at OSU), a really good EE reference/textbook is "Lessons in Electric Circuits" []
The original is at [] though.

PDF Format? (2, Funny)

vasqzr (619165) | more than 10 years ago | (#8500133)

Sweet. File-Print-Canon Copier

At 80ppm, it'll be done printing at the same time I can go down to the supply closet and get some 3 ring binders.

On a more serious note, you can get a high school kid to sell you his math books (or history, science, english) for some beer or pot.

My Free Calc Book Is Better! (4, Funny)

Mordack (756812) | more than 10 years ago | (#8500140)

My undergraduate universtiy Computer Science department had a small lobby with tables and chairs. Professors used to put their old books on the tables for students to take and keep if they found the book useful.

One day I was browsing the free books when I saw a box of brand new calculus books. It seemed odd, but I thought, "Well these books must be free". It was a nice calc book so I took one.

As I was walking out the building it occured to me that maybe sombody just put the box down for a minute to use the restroom or something. I better return the book. By the time I got back to the lobby the box was gone.

I still have the book.

Democratize publishing (3, Insightful)

droo0g (750796) | more than 10 years ago | (#8500143)

Publishing already is democratic, I think what the author was railing against was capitalism, which is another matter entirely. Granted, publishing companies have taken liberties with their content and their pricing structure. But what a good publisher brings to content delivery is filtering of garbage (which is what most of these free books are), quality editing, and a vehicle to reach a wide audience. Publishing books is expensive, the average profit margin for a text books is about %35, a lot less than the margin for jeans, sneakers or routers. If publishers learn to apply their knowlege to web delivery, which few have yet to do, then we may see quality content delivered on-line for a good price.

DO NOT SLASHDOT AARON (4, Interesting)

Ann Coulter (614889) | more than 10 years ago | (#8500147)

But he has links to some free math books at his home page [] including a link to a calculus book in progress. He also had the CRC Encyclopedia of Mathematics there back when Mathworld was offline.


i_r_sensitive (697893) | more than 10 years ago | (#8500175)

Just an FYI...

Posting on slashdot with the title "DO NOT SLASHDOT..." is oxymoron in action...

Damn 2 minute limit, what if I'm only funny two minutes at a time?

"source code ... isn't available..." (1)

CresentCityRon (2570) | more than 10 years ago | (#8500156)

Quote from the first book review "... the source code of the book isn't available (it appears to have been done in LaTeX), which I think makes it legally impossible under the GPL to redistribute the book..."

Is this concept true? If the text is out there you could just as easily reenter it into another mark up language of your choice. It all human readable.

Calculus textbooks should not be free! (2, Funny)

i_r_sensitive (697893) | more than 10 years ago | (#8500157)

Think of it as a confirmation dialog. When you get to the counter and the pimple faced clerk says, "Three hundred and eighteen dollars." you should hear:
"You are about to install Calculus 251. This courseware has been certified by (INSERT_NAME) University. Installing some courseware could be hazardous to your brain. Your parents deny all responsibility for the consequences should you install third party courseware. Continue with the installation of Calculus 251?"

Removing the cost for treeware is poor courseware design, as it introduces the danger of making poor choices without warning of the potential ramifications.

Of course, there is that significant portion of humanity which clicks yes, and then spends countless hours sorting out the damage from higgledy-piggledy courseware installation. The poster certainly falls into this category...

the way I learnt calculus (0)

grayshade (747479) | more than 10 years ago | (#8500184)

my Calculus teacher took a strange approach -- he introduced limits as "how does this function look like when we look at it from a very long distance?" or "how does this function look like when we look at it from a very short distance?", and then he developed these similitudes on and on. this way I was able to understand curvilineous integrals and a lot of other strange topics (here the exam is called calculus 2) in something like five minutes... I still haven't found a book taking this approach, but I found this "visual" manner of introducing such a fundamental topic to be quite interesting. HTH.

Shameless plug... (1)

samhalliday (653858) | more than 10 years ago | (#8500188)


what is source? when is it open? (2, Interesting)

buzban (227721) | more than 10 years ago | (#8500192)

Also, the source code of the book isn't available (it appears to have been done in LaTeX), which I think makes it legally impossible under the GPL to redistribute the book

THis is totally a side issue, but the source thing really interests me. i don't know a lot about what format actual source code comes in, but a lot of the software I download has its souce basically in a here's my question: is having to format the book (for presentation, headings, etc.) any different than having to put source code through a compiler, and possibly having to port? Is the source in this case really unavailable,, since the text of the document is right there to be had?
Just curious... ;)

Re:what is source? when is it open? (2, Insightful)

p3tersen (227521) | more than 10 years ago | (#8500295)

It's a finer line in the case of a math book though since the 'raw' text is written in a markup language called LaTeX that is essentally a programming language. You can write functions, scripts with if-then switches, etc. It's an intriguing question!

Library of Alexandria (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8500193)

The Internet is like the library of Alexandria - always growing with new and useful information, being copied, spread, developed. The story tells us that when ships were at the Alexandria harbour, the authorities searched through the ships for books - which they copied and then returned to their owners. ("Filesharing", if you will :-) ) It was the most important centre of learning and knowledge at the time. Hypatia would publish her work for free on the internet, had she lived today.

Actually (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8500227)

If Hypatia were alive today she'd be desparately clawing at the inside of her tomb trying to get air.

Thanks. I'll be here all week, folks.

Great review (3, Insightful)

p3tersen (227521) | more than 10 years ago | (#8500196)

Thanks for an interesting review! The economics of college textbooks are indeed a bit nuts, and the development of free (and especially libre) courseware is exciting. I gotta say though, if there's any course for which I think it's worth plunking down cash for a nice, well-bound, colour-printed book, it'd have to be first-year calculus. In particular I'm thinking of Stewart.

Another comment - most of these books seem to cover single-variable only - if you're going to need it eventually (as i did, being a physicist), i really think it's helpful to have vector analysis/differentiation/integration covered in the same book in a unified presentation. Again I'm thinking Stewart here.

I have read a dead-tree "calculus in order of historcal development" book before and it was a bit sticky but it was intended for more advanced maths or history-of-maths students... maybe that was the intended audience of the Shchepin book?


Chuck Bucket (142633) | more than 10 years ago | (#8500220)

...uhhh...wait...forget it.


'Calculus Made Easy' still a great book (2, Insightful)

anandamide (86527) | more than 10 years ago | (#8500255)

While not free, this little book does a great job of explaining the basics of calculus, what it's used for and how to visualize it.
Highly Recommended!
Amazon Listing []

GPL Abuse (3, Informative)

One Louder (595430) | more than 10 years ago | (#8500257)

This article brings up an interesting issue with the GPL - many people think GPL=="Open Source" or GPL=='No Cost" and automatically use the license even in things for which it makes no sense.

I have talked to a number of authors who applied the GPL to their products thinking that it simply made the binaries "free as in beer" and were shocked that I would ask for their source code.

It appears the authors' intents were to make these texts open and freely available, but the software-oriented GPL doesn't seem to be the appropriate license for what they are trying to do.

There are even some situations in software, such as image-based systems like Smalltalk (Squeak as an example), where the GPL's orientation around classical library linkage ends up inadvertently reducing the "free as in speech"-ness.

You get what you pay for (2, Interesting)

SuperBanana (662181) | more than 10 years ago | (#8500267)

When I was in college, our physics books were a "collaborative" book developed by Thomas Moore and "published" by McGraw-Hill. I dug one of the volumes out- it's bound with that cheesy plastic springy binder, because my college had to print it. So it's practically falling apart- whereas the textbooks from my father's classes are still looking good on his shelf in his office.

Doing your homework was fun- absolutely every problem set we did had at LEAST one mistake, to the point that our physics teacher was probably the most annoyed and frustrated of all of us as we went over our homework the next day. Every problem had to be worked out by the class together and double-checked, because the teacher's edition was wrong too! Great except when you're behind, everyone understood the problem, and you need to catch up on the curriculum schedule.

Graphs has wrong units, labels, variable names, or simply didn't exist but had problems referencing them. Equations were flat-out wrong or had typos. Page numbers and section numbers didn't match(Ie "see section 3-2 for more information on..."). Diagrams looked like they were drawn by a kid(you know, things like sailboats with triangle sails and trapezoid hulls? Flowers with smiley faces? Etc.)

The kicker? We were the second year to use the book, and the first year's class had turned in a HUGE list of corrections to Moore. The second edition sprouted even more errors, and some of the errors from the first year were never corrected. We weren't the only ones using it, either; plenty of other schools turned in corrections as well. I feel sorry for the kids at Pomona, must have been embarrassing to know other schools were using it.

Dude... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8500271)

"The economics of college textbooks is goofy, because the person who picks the book isn't the person who has to pay for it." Ussually the person picking the book is the person who wrote the damn book.

OMG, I used Kiesler in 1976 (5, Interesting)

sakusha (441986) | more than 10 years ago | (#8500301)

I can't believe it, the Kiesler book on Infinitesimal Calculus is the text I learned from way back when I was a freshman in 1976. And it's the reason I can't do calculus AT ALL.
I was in the Honors Math program, and the program director, in a moment of insanity, decided to use Kiesler's new book with the Infinitesimals approach. But there was only one problem, the book wasn't actually IN PRINT yet. Every monday, we received a new chapter of the book's galley proofs, followed by a long session of corrections. The teacher would write the errata on the blackboard and we wrote them in our texts. This took almost the entire session. We met 3 times a week, so the errata effectively nuked 1/3 of our classroom time.
Of course, this isn't likely to be a problem in the revised 2nd edition. However, the problem with this text is that it uses a completely nonstandard approach to calculus. The Infinitesimals approach is weak on the standard methods you really study calculus FOR, like differential equations. My roommate took the regular calc course and I studied with him, learning a few standard differentiation methods. I used a few of those techniques in the midterm test, they were marked wrong (even though they were the correct answers) and got called into the teacher's office. He said, "you didn't learn that in MY COURSE, did you?" We had to do everything the hard way, with infinitesimals, which was supposed to make you a better mathematician. It didn't.
As an amusing side note, I had a scheduling conflict with another final and had to take a makeup test, I was assigned a room to take the test all by myself, the teacher said he'd come back at the end to collect the test and if I left the room, he'd assumed I cheated and he'd give me an F. During the test, the building caught on fire on an upper floor and smoke started to drift in through the ducts. A campus security cop came in the room and told me to leave. I said I wouldn't, I only had 10 more minutes left on the test and I could finish before the fire spread. The cop grabbed me and shoved me out the door. The teacher gave me an F on the final for leaving the room. I got a D+ for the course, a passing grade, and that was good enough for me.
Anyway, I suppose the main problem was that the teachers hadn't figured out how to teach Infinitesimal Calculus yet, and I suspect they still haven't. Grappling with the abstraction of hyperreal numbers is extremely impractical in a world where everyone else uses an entirely different methodology. Avoid this text if you don't want your math skills permanently damaged. I think I'll pick up one of these other freebie calc texts and learn it over from scratch.
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