I took a semester where a professor was teaching Statistics. He gave out no lecture materials nor the name of any text books.

When I asked him for a text book name, he gave me a name of a 900+ pages' book. I could not find anything relevant in the text book which matches his lectures. Finally, I quit the course.

The same thing happened whilst undertaking my Numerical Analysis course.

See this YouTube video named Introduction to Computer Graphics at 16:31. This is okay may be for 3D computer graphics. But, I guess, not good for math.

Why don't some professors recommend a text book for a course?

  • 57
    Could you clarify “I could not find anything relevant in the text book which matches his lectures”? If the professor was teaching Statistics, presumably he was lecturing on statistics, and if the text book was on statistics, presumably it also contains statistics. While it is possible (and likely) that the organization and presentation of material is very different (e.g. the professor uses different notation, different order, etc), it would be strange if the actual content has absolutely no overlap (though possibly you need to learn “statistics”, say the entire textbook, before realizing it). Commented Sep 16, 2018 at 18:02
  • 16
    @JalapenoNachos I've had like 2 lectures in my entire life that followed a textbook. Not sure why it's such a big holdup for many people.
    – Cubic
    Commented Sep 16, 2018 at 23:08
  • 27
    During my first semester at university, many of my classmates complained that the lecturer was following the textbook "too closely" and that it was a waste of time since "we could also read the textbook on our own". Many wanted to have the professor's perspective and personal take on the material. (It was a maths lecture)
    – Taladris
    Commented Sep 17, 2018 at 4:55
  • 7
    I'm confused by your bolded "no lecture materials". It is your responsibility to take notes from the lecture that you are able to use later, was there some reason this was not possible? Commented Sep 17, 2018 at 14:26
  • 7
    I’m with @Cubic here. If a professor saw no benefit from requiring a book, then why would anyone try to find an excuse to spend money on one? In a world of electronic learning materials, this question seems to lack a core concern.
    – user58748
    Commented Sep 17, 2018 at 15:38

9 Answers 9


Reasons why I do not use textbooks:

  • Most textbooks in my experience are bad.
  • Most students do not read them (probably because they are bad).
  • They are expensive.
  • They do not align with how I want to teach the course.
  • I can provide the relevant subset of content myself.

I can't see a reason to use a textbook in my courses other than for supplemental material (even then, I would much rather point them to some free PDFs/slides from various faculty that are online).

  • 9
    I can't speak for everyone, but I think the reason why a lot of students don't read textbooks is because they are just a chore to read. One of my professors once recorded his lectures and gave us the videos. It was very helpful in understanding the material and my personal opinion is that if he just gave everyone a textbook recommendation, people would not have learned nearly as much.
    – MechMK1
    Commented Sep 16, 2018 at 16:14
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    Weird. In college (40yrs ago) I read every single textbook that my professor assigned and required and so did the vast majority of my classmates. To this day I still have them and frequently reference them. Commented Sep 16, 2018 at 19:57
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    @RBarryYoung: It might vary based on your field (and on your interest in learning/academia in general), but I would suggest that your experience does not reflect those of most others. Some courses are heavily dependent on reading the textbook; many others barely touch on the "required" reading.
    – user8283
    Commented Sep 16, 2018 at 22:53
  • 54
    @V2Blast The 40 years ago part of Barry's comment is relevant. Attitudes and methods of both teachers and students have changed noticeably in the last half century. One big reason is that 40+ years ago you didn't have near-instantaneous access to the sum total of human knowledge in your pocket. The book assigned for the course was not really optional then (for both sides, really). Today I can find entire textbooks, solution manuals, youtube video courses, etc. online with limited fuss. Commented Sep 17, 2018 at 1:45
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    @Taladris Textbook authors are not picked uniformly at random from the population of (fluent) professors. There's a selection bias; many great lecturers will never consider writing a text. So there's no such expectation. The production of textbooks for common classes (calculus, say) is also a profit-oriented venture of mass consumption; it's not motivated by educational efficacy. I think you also overestimate the amount of time the typical professor/lecturer is willing to put into evaluating a text and actively encouraging or discouraging its use. Commented Sep 17, 2018 at 6:38

Regardless of any perceived advantages of textbooks, they usually have many disadvantages for the student. By some decision-making process, your professor has decided that no combination of textbooks has enough advantages to outweigh the disadvantages.

  • They're expensive.
  • They take a kitchen sink approach to have a wider market.
  • They're difficult to read.
    • Often lacking explanations, intuitions, and visuals for the complicated concepts they're spouting as obvious and important.
  • They take time away from homework, reviewing and consolidating your lecture notes, discussions with peers, attending office hours, and other things that are generally much more beneficial to your learning and career.
  • They're outdated in many fields. Parts of statistics and numerical analysis are advancing rapidly and have been for years.
  • They're difficult to use correctly when they don't map perfectly to the lectures.
    • As a bit of an aside, some of the greatest value from a textbook is gained when they don't map perfectly to lectures. It allows you to supplement the lectures with a completely different perspective.
  • They're inflexible. For any given textbook, some students won't learn well from it. A professor can tailor their approach to a degree, but a textbook is fixed. That presents a risk in choosing a book.
  • 24
    I chose a book for one of my courses, the students all complained bitterly that there were no examples. The next year I chose a different book (triggering complaints that they couldn't get used ones) with examples; they all complained bitterly that it had no theory or rules, just endless examples and case studies. I put in hours of work to finally track down a book with both and in addition to the "we can't get used from last year" I was told it was too long, too heavy and too expensive. I switched to printing my lecture notes. Commented Sep 17, 2018 at 17:50
  • 1
    1. They're not expensive if you borrow them from the library or download them. 2. They are intended for teachers to make a partial selection from the "kitchen sink" of all chapters together 3. They're usually easier to read than one's classmates' lecture notes 4. Let the students decide how best to approach the course. Tell them you recommend following the lectures without consulting the book, for example, but also mention a book 5. Unless it's an advanced course, you're typically teaching basics, which change rarely enough to be well-covered by books.
    – einpoklum
    Commented Sep 17, 2018 at 21:10
  • 4
    @einpoklum I'm not quite sure who's misunderstanding whom, but there seems to be a bit of a disconnect here. I rather like books myself and think they have a place in most courses, but OP didn't seem to be asking for positives. We can't just wave away the negatives because they can be partially mitigated or don't exist in every imaginable circumstance. Taking cost as an example, for my undergraduate I had to buy 4+ books each semester even after downloading/borrowing any I could find for free. Even used, that came to $300+. Commented Sep 18, 2018 at 2:10
  • 3
    @einpoklum you can’t honestly expect every student taking a course to be able to borrow textbooks from the library
    – user58748
    Commented Sep 18, 2018 at 14:14
  • 3
    @einpoklum that sounds like an excellent program, but in my experience it’s an exception to the rule!
    – user58748
    Commented Sep 18, 2018 at 21:33

For individual courses and professors you need to ask the professor. However, there are a number of reasons why someone might want to make no recommendation.

Least likely is that the prof feels that any book is as good as any other.

A bit more likely is that the prof feels that any book is as bad as any other.

Up the scale a bit is the sense (possibly misplaced) that the prof's lectures are all the student will need. If this is the case, the student's are strongly advised to attend every lecture and take lots of notes. For some this is a valid position if the professor also puts extensive materials online or otherwise makes them available. However, it can also be a trap if the professor thinks that lectures deliver the needed information and skills perfectly to every student. That is a serious error of judgement.

Another reason is that the prof wants the students to actually seek out answers to questions online or in the (gasp) library. Some professors don't answer questions with answers but with a strategy for finding the answer. This, of course, disadvantages lazy students.

Still higher on the (my) list is that the course is intended to use active learning and so more passive approaches (reading, watching, listening) are discouraged and the student is expected to do most of his or her learning by doing exercises and projects. For Statistics and Numerical Analysis, this seems to me to be a worthy goal. I find it useful also in much of computer science.

Given that one learns by practice and reinforcement, this last strategy can be very effective. Active learning gives you an operational knowledge of a subject that reading (or even reading and underlining) a book won't.

I have, on occasion, "recommended" a book, not for help on the things in the course, but for things that won't be covered. There was no obligation to buy the book. I've also made such recommendations about a pair of quite different books for the same reason.

  • I totally agree with the "active learning" bit and that is how I work my course (demonstration of method with detail and lots of practise after). plus one from me just for that.
    – Solar Mike
    Commented Sep 16, 2018 at 14:53
  • +1 for point #3: ultimately, the point of university is to become an independent learner. At some point as professionals there won’t be a textbook telling us how to solve a particular problem. Doubly so if your aim is to become an academic. Sometimes you are just have to find and evaluate primary material for yourself. Commented Sep 18, 2018 at 19:30

It might also be cultural. I studied (mostly math) in France. I have never been given a textbook to read for any higher education class. It just isn't done, and I think the idea of paying for a book would have been a non-starter for me and most of my classmates. Now that I teach myself, recommending a textbook isn't even something that crosses my mind, and I know it's the same for many of my colleagues. (Some do; but it's never required for the students to even glance at the list... And there may be a few copies in the university library, but they certainly won't buy it.)

What is done in some courses is that the teacher will have written (or inherited) some lecture notes – colloquially known as a polycopié or poly – and hand it out for students or even just post on a webpage. Of course, when the notes keep being passed on from prof to prof, they basically become an unpublished textbook. Some of them are of the highest quality. But it's always understood that it's a mere memory aid and that was is important is what's said in class. And there usually is no claim of completeness like the word "textbook" implies (I think).

  • 4
    Similar here in Germany. I have bought some textbooks. Always after the course when I knew enough from the course (and the various books in the library) to be able to decide which textbook I want. Commented Sep 17, 2018 at 18:38

I took a class in kinematic astronomy where the first thing the professor asked was, "Do any of you read German?" Sometimes a field is so highly specialized that there just isn't a good textbook available that covers everything the professor plans to discuss.

  • From the OPs comment, this was an introductory statistics class. There are plenty of those textbooks available.
    – De Novo
    Commented Sep 19, 2018 at 16:35

Reasons could be anything, down to personality preference. If you had an advanced statistic course, there might not be a book that covers your materials.

But this is 2018. You have Google, digital library, Amazon... Why can't you do some searching yourself?

  • 15
    The perspective of an expert is valuable in selecting a textbook -- especially when purchasing them online so that you can't easily examine them and get a sense of their quality or how they relate to what you already know. Commented Sep 16, 2018 at 16:37

Probably there is no text book for his course.

I would think, probably he actually used the 900 page book and cherry picked the topics for his course.

Probably not last month, but over the years he held the lecture. Recommending any text book would mean that it contains stuff you do not need (for the course) and may lack topics covered by the course, so he cannot recommend any book. Any but the 900 page book, which is not suitable for reading, but contains the topics which will be covered together with a lot of others.

So to satisfy you demand, he would need to write a book covering his course. Some professors do so sooner or later, but many do not. Others may use an existing book, but not everyone agrees with the existing books on the topics which are important for the lecture.

  • which is not true at all. he was solving a number of maths which exactly match Hwei P. Hsu. But, he referred me Douglas C. Montgomery.
    – user84565
    Commented Sep 18, 2018 at 9:38
  • When you know the right text book, use it. Maybe he had reasons to mention another, maybe he confused it with the other one, maybe something else. You stated in your question, that you did not know the right text book. I do not know the books, so I have no idea. It isn't that unlikely that he just thought of the wrong book in the moment, when the other book really matches the course.
    – allo
    Commented Sep 18, 2018 at 11:27
  • by the time I found the correct book, the semester was over.
    – user84565
    Commented Sep 18, 2018 at 13:04

In my opinion, the reason is that most professors wish that students attend the lessons, in order to capture some particular explanations, and technical details you can't find in any book. My statistics professor, when we asked her what where the reference books on which to study for the examinations, answered us: "Would you like to know what are the reference books?? Follow the course!!!!".


I think it is the idea that they want to design the exact content (topics covered).

I disagree with this stance because I think that many different courses can have benefit and that the biggest issue is not the exact topic list but how well you learn. And I think textbooks are an excellent pedagogical aid (and also helpful for future reference, since you studied THAT book). I think almost all courses would be better off picking a text and sticking closely to it. But obviously some people disagree with me.

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