The Book

Amazon or Barnes and Noble or Walmart or Target or Books-a-Million or Powell’s or Indiebound or anywhere hunks of lovely paper are sold

You can also…
Read a review! Or another review! Or another!
Or an excerpt at Popular Science!
Or another excerpt at Vox!
Or listen to an interview! Or another!
Or check out upcoming book events!


Q: Hey Ben, do you have any surreal and exhilarating news?

Yes! I’ve written a book! Even more surreal, I’ve written and illustrated a book!

It comes out September 18th, 2018.

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Q: Wow! Are you excited?

So excited! It’s the best and coolest thing I’ve ever created, mostly because I didn’t create it by myself. I had help from so many talented and far-thinking people.

Q: What’s it about?


Q: That’s… kind of a big topic?

Yeah, that’s what I thought at first. A book about “math in general” felt as impossible as one about “history in general” or “ideas in general.” Too big, too broad. I ain’t got the whole world in my hands.

But when I started writing, it began to click.

The opening section, “How to Think Like a Mathematician,” tackles the big questions in the discipline—how notation works, the relationship between “pure” and “applied,” the aims of mathematical inquiry. If you read this blog, you’ll recognize the themes (though the writing, I assure you, is all new!).

Then it fans out. And it becomes a book about… well, everything.

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Q: Everything?

As a math person, I’m always boasting that math underlies every aspect of life. I figured it was time to walk the walk.

So every chapter tackles a new topic. Why architects use triangles. Why people buy lottery tickets. How to evaluate schools statistically. Why the economy collapsed in 2008. Why there aren’t giants. The benefits and costs of building a spherical Death Star. 

Q: Wow, that’s a lo—

Income taxes. The genetics of sibling resemblance. Batting average. Non-cubical dice. Why I first hated and then came to love the paper in the UK.

Q: Okay, I get the—

The dawn of modern economics. The statistical analysis of literature. Weird insurance programs. The replication crisis in science. The chaos theory of history.

Q: Are you finished?

Yeah, I think that’s it.

Q: Finally! So how did—

Oh, and the Electoral College!

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Q: Ahem.


Q: So how did this book happen?

In 2015, a magical pair of literary agents asked me if I wanted to write books. I did, desperately, so I panicked and said “AAAAAGHHH.”

Then, in 2016, a magical editor asked if I wanted to write a book for her imprint (which creates gorgeously designed and illustrated nonfiction). I did, desperately, so I ran to my agents and said “AAAAAGHHH.”

Q: You sound… not very good at this.

Yeah, I don’t know if you’ve ever experienced a spell of cosmic and totally unearned good luck, but it’s very anxiety-provoking.

Anyway, I guess my wordless fear-joy constituted a contract, so I spent 2017 writing, and 2018 watching as a parade of ninjas (copy editor, production editor, designer…) assembled my scribbles and screams into an actual, printable, readable, lovable book.

Q: Is the book funny?

Among its 400+ color illustrations, you’ll find a bowling ball, a series of Mario tubes, and Dwayne Johnson. I believe that answers your question.

Q: Not really, no. 

Then yes, it’s hilarious.

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Q: Have any famous people said wonderfully generous things about it?

Indeed they have!

“Brilliant, wide ranging, and irreverent, MATH WITH BAD DRAWINGS adds ha ha to aha. It’ll make you smile – plus it might just make you smarter and wiser.”

Steven Strogatz, Professor of Mathematics, Cornell University, author of The Joy of x and The Calculus of Friendship

Steve is also a leading candidate for the title of Nicest Person Alive.

“Orlin’s ability to masterfully convey interesting and complex mathematical ideas through the whimsy of drawings (that, contrary to the suggestion of the title, are actually not that bad) is unparalleled. This is a great work showing the beauty of mathematics as it relates to our world. This is a must read for anyone who ever thought math isn’t fun, or doesn’t apply to the world we live in!”

John Urschel, mathematician named to Forbes® “30 Under 30” list of outstanding young scientists and former Baltimore Ravens player

John is 4 years younger than me, knows 4 times as much math as I do, and has thrown NFL defensive linemen to the ground.

“Ben Orlin is terribly bad at drawing. Luckily he’s also fantastically clever and charming. His talents have added up to the most glorious, warm and witty illustrated guide to the irresistible appeal of mathematics.”

Hannah Fry, Mathematician, University College London and BBC Presenter

Fun Fact: Hannah is so friendly and cool that she does “friendly and cool” professionally on television.

“Illuminating, inspiring, and hilarious, MATH WITH BAD DRAWINGS is everything you wanted to learn in class but never thought to ask. A joyful romp through mathematics and all its wisdom.”

Bianca Bosker, author the New York Times-bestselling Cork Dork

Bianca (1) is a brilliant writer, and (2) has not drunk the “math popularizer” Kool-Aid, so you know you can trust her.

Q: That sounds great! Where can I buy this delightful book?

Anywhere and everywhere, my friend! It’s available online (Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Walmart, Target, Books-a-Million, Powell’s, Indiebound) and in brick-and-mortar stores.

Q: Will you be doing events and interviews?

Yes! I’m super excited for the chance to share this book with you. If you’re interested in scheduling an event or an interview, email me! (Just the name of the blog at gmail.)

84 thoughts on “The Book

    1. Yes. Alas. Didn’t think my tapestry of lies would unravel so fast.

      In reality: That was some earlier, work-in-progress cover art. The blue-silver creation in the photo is how the cover will actually look (with a few tweaks – that photo was the penultimate draft).

  1. Slightly more serious question, considering your background in education that led up to this project.

    Do you find kids being drawn (*ahem*) closer to the subject by your illustrations?

    Because I know that I love them, but I majored in Math & Physical Sciences, so, you know, not so average…

    I tutor a teen in Algebra. She’s not bad at it, but has the mental block that convinces her she is. How did the drawings work with the classroom full of kids?

    Do kids get the book, or mostly just the geeks who already like math? (Any market research done for this major release?) 🙂

    And congratulations. I hope the book sells like hotcakes.

    1. A good question!

      Honestly, I don’t use my cartoons much in my own teaching. From time to time students come across this blog and get excited to have a teacher with a decent-sized web presence, but that’s mostly just a fun novelty for them.

      I hear what you’re saying about your student’s mental block; I’ve seen how hard it is for kids to escape this looming sense of hierarchy in math, of some people being better and others worse.

      The book is definitely meant for everyone – geeks like me, sure, but also math-skeptical folks, both kids and adults. I did my best to pick mathematical topics that would play to all audiences, because they combined (1) deep mathematical ideas, (2) cool real-world applications, and (3) the chance to make lots of jokes.

      Although I’m super happy the math folks like Strogatz, Urschel, and Fry liked the book, some of the feedback I’m proudest of is from people with no vested interest or specialization in math, who found the book engaging and fun anyway!

      1. I’m an 60-year-old math-a-phobe. I stumbled across your blog while looking for the answer, “why do two negatives make a positive”. (I got some pretty good leads on answering this question here!). I look at your drawings, and often draw (ahem) complete blanks. It’s sometimes refreshing to not understand the joke. There are whole worlds out there that we can’t understand, but it gives me hope when I occasionally “get it”. Doesn’t stop me from trying. Great good luck with the book, Ben!

  2. What is your preferred source to purchase the book at (i.e. which gives you the greatest cut of the profits)?

      1. What about the ebook versions, like kindle or nook? Do you think your illustrations will come out clearly on kindle or nook?

        1. Yes – I’m confident the illustrations will look good! I myself am a fan of physical matter-books but if you prefer digital mind-books then I think you will be pleased

  3. Congratulations – and thank you! I too would like to know which source for us would give you the be$t re$ult in your pocket?

  4. Long time reader, second time writer. I, for one, am super excited for this. I’m not a book reader, but I can and have read your blog for days. So I think I can handle this one. Congratulations and excited for more blog posts now!

    P.S. Your use of “math person” has shaken Jo Boaler to her core.

    1. Lol – it’s never my intention to cause Jo Boaler any existential distress. (Here I meant “math person” as in “person who writes about and teaches math for a living.”)

      And thanks for commenting! If you want other book recommendations I’ve got lots that I love, although I realize the internet is like 10^12 books in one and can keep one plenty occupied

  5. Yayayay a boook!! I yelped with joy and my sister asked me what was going on and my answer was as follows: “He finally wrote the book! I mean, I didn’t know he was gonna write a book, but he wrote one and look at this! *shoves camel/straw graph in her face* It took me way too long to get! See how long it takes you!” Seriously, I had stared at it for waaaayy too long, trying to unlock the secrets of its existence. She looked at it, looked at me, and said, “The straw that broke the camel’s back?” Yup.
    All of this to say, I’m quite looking forward to your book. 🙂

    1. Lol – thank you for your excitement! I’m glad that the camel proved such a worthy puzzle for you. I’m inordinately fond of that camel.

  6. Congrats Sir for your Book (world of math with funny drawings). Recently I read your blog on Big vs Small, It was too good. After reading that i was very eager to know about you. Mathematics is my first love from my childhood. I like to play with numbers, speially with infinite series. Today you gave me a new way to see and learn the math.

    I am eagerly waiting for your book & I want to share my work on Infinite Series with you It will be an honour for me

  7. Ben
    I got your book a couple of days ago and it is gorgeous. It is packed with great content (the good versus great mathematicians chapter almost makes you wish you had the patience to become a great mathematician when you could) and beautifully produced. Thanks for writing it.


  8. Outstanding book. Love reading each and every chapter. Although I believe I found a typo on page 47 🙂

    Can’t put this down!

  9. Reading your drawing (just found out it’s a new pairing for verb and noun) is like sending brain to the gym for a relaxing yet interesting exercise (coming from theoretical background myself and always have fun reading math even though it remotely intersects the scope of my real life). You open up a new window for me of how to express math in a fun way for more audience not just dive in the hard way and enlightened by moment of light bulb ding. I like scribbling doodle but never turn out to be as bad(ass) drawing as yours 🙂 Is there any tip you’d give for this comic style drawing? Do you start with paper and pen or software? What tools do you recommend, crayon ink pen?

  10. Quick question: I want to get this for my son this Christmas. What is the level of math mentioned in the book? He is in first year university honors math. Will that math be too hard or easy (boring) for him? Thanks, Mom(!)

    1. I think it should be right up his alley! The topics are accessible; I think he’ll find it a breezy read, but with plenty of new ideas (or fresh takes on familiar ones).

  11. Thanks for posting about this on Scalzi’s blog today – you just solved my annual “What the heck do I get for my smart, geeky nephew this Solstice” dilemma. He is a math nerd, 14 going on about 27, and finding a book for him that hits the sweet spot between too juvenile and too dull has gotten more difficult every year.

    Best of luck to you, and thanks again for the shopping help!

  12. All I did was look up “pure or applied mathematics” on my favorite search engine, and now I have a book on my wishlist for next payday!.
    Why isn’t anything simple anymore! 🙂

  13. Enjoying the book, but I think you’ve underestimated your drawing ability. I think they’re pretty good. 🙂

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