Herman's New Book - Coming Home to Math

May 04 2020

Prof. Irving Herman has just published Coming Home to Math: Become Comfortable with the Numbers that Rule Your Life with World Scientific.

We live in a world of numbers and mathematics, and so we need to work with numbers and some math in almost everything we do, to control our happiness and the direction of our lives. The purpose of Coming Home to Math is to make adults with little technical training more comfortable with math, in using it and enjoying it, and to allay their fears of math, enable their numerical thinking, and convince them that math is fun. A range of important math concepts are presented and explained in simple terms, mostly by using arithmetic, with frequent connections to the real world of personal financial matters, health, gambling, and popular culture.

Coming Home to Math is geared to making the general, non-specialist, adult public more comfortable with math, though not to formally train them for new careers or to teach those first learning math. It may also be helpful to liberal arts college students who need to tackle more technical subjects. The range of topics covered may also appeal to scholars who are more math savvy, though it may not challenge them.

When asked about why he wrote Coming Home to Math, Herman noted: “A few years ago, I got tired of hearing time and time again in the popular media that people did not like math, were afraid of it, were not good at it, or new very little math. My response was to write this semi- popular, semi-trade book. Of course I love math and have always loved it, and at Columbia I am immersed among others like me. Though my research is not in any form of mathematics, it is applied physics, my math skills are pretty strong. My approach in writing Coming Home to Math was to look for connections between everyday people, and their lives, and some important and common areas of math, and to explore them-to help some start feeling comfortable with math, because it rules their lives (and it is loads of fun). I hope this approach will resonate with at least some of those in the intended audience. Because my background is not as strong as those whose careers center on math, this also meant that I needed to learn a bit more math and its everyday uses, and to seek advice from colleagues.”

This is Herman’s third book. He has also published the monograph Optical Diagnostics for Thin Film Processing (1996), which built upon his research on lasers and thin film processing, and Physics of the Human Body (2007, 2nd edition in 2016), which is a textbook he wrote for a course he developed, with the same name, for first-year SEAS students.

More information about Coming Home to Math can be found at




Picture of a the book cover of "Coming Home to Math" and a photograph of Prof. Irving Herman in his lab

Coming Home to Math: Become Comfortable with the Numbers that Rule Your Life

Prof. Irving Herman, Edwin Howard Armstrong Professor of Applied Physics and Chair of the Department of Applied Physics and Applied Mathematics