Sherman K. Stein received his Ph.D. from Columbia University in 1953 and spent almost all his academic career at the University of California, Davis, where he attained emeritus status in 1993. He has written several books, texts and otherwise; this is his first, originally published in 1963.

It may seem to be a bit late to be getting around to reviewing a book approaching its fiftieth year of life, but it may be worthwhile to take a look at a book that has gone through three editions with its original publisher, W. H. Freeman & Co., growing all the while (1963, 316 pp.; 1969, 415 pp.; 1976, 573 pp.), had a reissue by McGraw-Hill in 1994, and two printings, 1999 and 2010, with Dover Publications. The page count is now 575. Few books, mathematical or not, survive so long.

It’s a text for a course for students outside the mathematical mainstream. Such courses have their ups and downs, and the 60s were one of the up times. Many schools offered courses with titles like “Mathematics for the Liberal Arts” and quite a few texts were available for them. My school had one of the courses and used a text by Richman, Walker, and Wisner that is also still in print; I taught the course a few times and it went over fairly well. In the 70s, it disappeared, either because requirements for students changed or the department thought that its time could be better spent elsewhere, I forget which. Thus do ups and downs go: up, and then down.

As such texts do, it considers a variety of topics, related only by being mathematical, interesting, and within the grasp of students knowing little mathematics, as one can see from the table of contents.

The writing is clear and its pace is appropriate. There are many exercises, their number at the end of chapters 2, 3, and 4 being 57, 66, and 71 (including a picture of a slide rule), many of which have answers at the back of the book. The text’s emphasis is always on the mathematics. Problem 11 in chapter 2 starts “Prove that” and there are many calls for proofs throughout. That is the way things were in the 60s. I think it was a good way, but tastes change. I took a quick look around the internet for the contents of current liberal-arts mathematics courses and found quite a few including topics like “financial mathematics” or “consumer mathematics”. It’s also a good thing to know about interest rates, but a choice has to be made.

The book’s age shows in some of its topics. Dissecting a square or a rectangle into different-sized subsquares or subrectangles was more fashionable then than it is now, and I expect that you could think of a few topics that have arisen since 1963 that could replace the two chapters they take up. Even if you can’t there is plenty of other material. Or, you could always do more problems. There are plenty to go around.

Amazon.com has a review of the book by a student, who gives it a lowly two stars. Even so, he or she says “If I were reading this book for my own enjoyment or in conjunction with a more formal text then it is an interesting and informative read ... even enjoyable at times.” Even enjoyable! High praise indeed. If you are looking for a text for a course for which this could be a text, give it consideration. Texts don’t last fifty years for nothing.

Woody Dudley once wrote a text and is proud that it is still going, though it’s a comparative youngster at the age of 42.