Math for English Majors

My fourth book, coming 9/3/2024!
Preorder anywhere, or get a signed copy.

Here’s a question that consumed two years of my life. What if we took literally the idea that math is a language?

Math for English Majors

Not “math is the poetry of logic.” Not “math is the metaphorical language of the cosmos.” Not “math is the unspoken Urdu of the universe” (though that one, as they say, kind of cooks).

When I propose that math is literally a language, I mean literally. What if math is a language in the same sense that Spanish, Arabic, and Dothraki are languages: the means by which a little human community communicates their little human thoughts?

What if math has nouns, verbs, prepositions, stylistic conventions, weird etymologies, and distinctive conversational patterns?

What if these seeming quirks reveal essential features of mathematical culture?

What if the three prior books I’ve written, carefully sidestepping variables equations to focus on ideas, were missing a crucial part of the story? What if one of the biggest and most vital ideas is the language itself? The structure of algebra, the rules governing the symbols, the implicit grammar of mathematical utterances—what if that’s the core of mathematics?

What if, all these years, and without even realizing it, I’ve been a foreign language teacher?

My new book, out September 3rd, is Math for English Majors: A Human Take on the Universal Language. It is my shortest, pithiest, purplest book to date, and it wrestles with the biggest, most sprawling questions. What exactly is the math we teach in schools? Why do so many of us struggle to wring meaning from it it? And while we’re at it, how does math even work? How can shuffling symbols teach us new things about reality?

It’s a book for people who have spent a lifetime saying, “I’m not a math person.”

It’s a book for bewildered students—and for their even more bewildered parents.

It’s a book for longtime math lovers keen to hear their own language with fresh ears.

It’s a book for people who admire bad drawings, Jorge Luis Borges references, and anecdotes about an overeducated author screwing up basic arithmetic.

It’s a book, I fervently hope and honestly believe, for you.

You can preorder it anywhere. Minneapolis indie bookstore Magers & Quinn is selling signed copies (the first 250 of which will include a stick figure drawing, too). Preorders are crucial for any book, so I humbly ask that you foist the link on all your friends (and your enemies too, if your enemies buy books).

This slender volume took two years to write, and the point, in short, is this: For too many of us, math is like a pothole in the road. It’s a minor inconvenience, something you swerve to avoid. But what if we didn’t have to steer around math? What new roads could we travel down?

I hope you’ll join me in finding out.