Full versions of historical mathematical texts (for free!)

February 25th, 2009 | Categories: general math | Tags:

For some time now I have been aware of the fact that google have been digitizing thousands of books on all manner of subjects because they have been turning up in my search results. Now, when they first started doing this it caused something of an outcry because the book’s authors and publishers were (quite rightly) concerned that making large tracts of their texts available online for free might affect sales somewhat.

The moral and legal discussions concerning all of this are still ongoing and will likely do so for some time (see this, this and this for example) but I don’t want to talk about that – I am MUCH more interested with books (and maths books in particular) that are in the public domain.  In other words, maths books that are freely available to all without damaging the pockets of any hard-working authors.

So, let’s see what we can see.  First off, go to google books and click on Advanced book search.  In the search field select Full View Only and in the subject field type Mathematics. When I did this, the first few results were all in French which is great if you speak French but since I don’t I needed to dig a little deeper into the search results.  There are a few more in German and what I think might be Latin but eventually I started to come across a few that really piqued my interest.  Of course I could have just restricted the language to English Only but I was having a bad day!

For an idea of how young people learned their mathematics back in the 18th century check out John Ward’s classic text The Young Mathematician’s Guide.  There are several editions available on google books but the image below is from the 12th edition (dated 1771) which was scanned from an original in the library  of the University of Michigan.  Click on the image for the link to the full version in pdf format.

John Ward text

How about Volume 1 of the Mathematical Correspondent by George Baron – apparently the first mathematical periodical published in the United States?


Ever wondered what kind of maths problems you would be expected to solve if you did a degree in mathematics at Cambridge around 1801-1820?  Of course you did!

Cambridge Problems

You might be interested in the solutions too!  Since these are long out of copyright you can download them in full and read them at your leisure.

This is just a tiny sample of the 500+ books that came up in my full text search so please take a look and report back on any interesting snippets you find.  Have fun!