How To Read A Mathematics Textbook

QED Insight

When I was a young and foolish undergraduate, Professor Blyth told us at the beginning of a math course how important it is to read a textbook several times. Once is not enough, he said. I recall very clearly how strongly he emphasized that reading a mathematics textbook is NOT like reading a novel.

Years later, I was struck by the following passage from the article A Writer’s Ten Commandments, by Stephen Vizinczey (his official web site is here), reprinted in Truth and Lies in Literature, pages 4–5 (the quote is in the middle of a commandment “Thou shalt not let a day pass without re-reading something great”):

Don’t commit the common mistake of trying to read everything in order to be well-informed. Being well-informed will allow you to shine at parties but is absolutely no use to you as a writer. Reading a book so you…

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