Is Math Real?

How Simple Questions Lead Us to Mathematics' Deepest Truths

Coming Soon


By Eugenia Cheng

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One of the world’s most creative mathematicians offers a “brilliant” and “mesmerizing” (Popular Science) new way to look at math—focusing on questions, not answers   
Winner of the Los Angeles Times Book Prize and a New Scientist Best Book of the Year  
Where do we learn math: From rules in a textbook? From logic and deduction? Not really, according to mathematician Eugenia Cheng: we learn it from human curiosity—most importantly, from asking questions. This may come as a surprise to those who think that math is about finding the one right answer, or those who were told that the “dumb” question they asked just proved they were bad at math. But Cheng shows why people who ask questions like “Why does 1 + 1 = 2?” are at the very heart of the search for mathematical truth.   
Is Math Real? is a much-needed repudiation of the rigid ways we’re taught to do math, and a celebration of the true, curious spirit of the discipline. Written with intelligence and passion, Is Math Real? brings us math as we’ve never seen it before, revealing how profound insights can emerge from seemingly unlikely sources.    

  • Winner of the 2023 Los Angeles Times Book Prize in Science & Technology
  • A New Scientist Best Book of 2023
  • “[Cheng] also succeeds in making the reader feel that not understanding something in mathematics isn’t the same as being bad at it: rather, it is a clue that you are onto something deeper, the pursuit of which could reap rewards. The book is infused with personal ruminations that lighten the load and keep the tone conversational…Cheng wears her heart and politics on her sleeve, segueing seamlessly…from mathematics to social concerns…Nicely parried, while providing fodder for those who want to chew on this some more.”
    New Scientist
  • “The maths content of Eugenia Cheng’s book is brilliant …The mathematical journey that Cheng takes us through is mesmerizing….do read it if you want to know more about the nature of pure mathematics and about being a mathematician.”
    Popular Science
  • “[Is Math Real?] demonstrates the ways that seemingly naïve questions can unlock fascinating journeys to understanding math for math’s sake.”
    Science News
  • “An invigorating philosophical take on the field…Cheng has a talent for making mathematical discussions accessible, and her wide-ranging analysis leads to some surprisingly weighty conclusions…It adds up to a stellar meditation on the nature of knowledge and math.”
    Publishers Weekly (Starred)
  • “A fantastic, thought-provoking read. Cheng is the kind of mathematician and writer who performs some sort of creative magic that enables you to understand what you thought you couldn’t, and makes math fascinating.”
  • “[An] entertaining foray into the more philosophical realms of mathematics… For the budding mathematician in the house, to say nothing of lovers of puzzles and enigmas.”
  • Is Math Real? is a generous tour of mathematics for anyone whose instincts tend less towards ‘Just tell me the answer’ and more towards ‘Wait, but why?’”
    Jordan Ellenberg, author of Shape
  • “This book is a brilliant rebuttal to those who see math as only about right answers, rather than about creative discovery. In her singularly inviting style, Cheng digs deep to engage fundamental questions that others might dismiss. She masterfully uncovers what’s simply profound in the profoundly simple and demonstrates how math can help us express the nuance and the richness of our world.”
    Francis Su, author of Mathematics for Human Flourishing
  • “In a delightfully accessible style, Eugenia Cheng invites us to move beyond the prototypical love-hate relationship with mathematics and embrace a unique appreciation of mathematics as tool for human flourishing. Escaping negative, socially engrained perspectives, Is Math Real? invites us on a journey of discovery and illuminates a path to joyfully embracing the mathematician in all of us.”
    Talithia Williams, author of Power in Numbers
  • “Cheng narrates in a gently instructive first-person voice, inviting readers back into the world of mathematics…Cheng’s affable style carries her central message through to the end.”
    Scientific American

On Sale
Jan 7, 2025
Page Count
336 pages
Basic Books

Eugenia Cheng

About the Author

Eugenia Cheng is the scientist in residence at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and an Honorary Fellow at the University of Sheffield. The author of How to Bake Piand Beyond Infinity, she lives in Chicago, Illinois.

Learn more about this author