My mathematics department is adopting a new calculus textbook. The publisher has refused to continue printing the same edition that we have been using, and their new edition is one of several options which we are considering.

Several of these books are extremely well-known and widely used, and we have to judge which is the best. The most important step is to look at the books myself, which indeed I did. Beyond that, I am curious how the various choices have played out in actual teaching situations. Indeed, in our deliberations I feel that I am reinventing the wheel.

Are there any trustworthy sources of reviews of popular textbooks, written with an eye towards the experience of the student reading them?

  • 1
    What do you consider "trustworthy"?
    – ff524
    Mar 25, 2015 at 16:18
  • 1
    A big-selling freshman textbook is like a top-40 song. It's popular because that's what many people want. A reviewer may not have the same opinions as you do about what is good in a textbook. You may want top-40 and the reviewer may want bebop, or vice versa.
    – user1482
    Mar 25, 2015 at 20:23
  • @BenCrowell: I don't just want opinions; for that, my own suffice. ;) Surely there are people out there who have used multiple books extensively and have made specific observations about what students find more or less difficult with each? I found this physicsforums.com/threads/… or this answers.yahoo.com/question/index?qid=20110711044320AATJ9in but there doesn't seem to be a lot of meaningful content there.
    – Anonymous
    Mar 25, 2015 at 21:15
  • @ff524: By trustworthy I mean that the reviewer is an experienced calculus teacher and is basing his or her judgement based on students' experiences with a class based around the book in question.
    – Anonymous
    Mar 25, 2015 at 21:19

2 Answers 2


I am not aware of any specific aggregator of textbooks review. But... reading reviews on Amazon may help. (By reading I mean actually reading, not just comparing average scores; especially reviews with non-extreme grades. Usually they also gives some context the reader's position and motivation.)


  • some journals have a section with book reviews,
  • some researchers and lectures write blog posts, reviews or suggested readings,

however, each single review is only a single data point.

But once you focused on a few books, there is no shortcut to actually looking at their content and deciding whether it fits your course, approach, taste, etc.

  • 3
    +1, I'd also suggest scouting for syllabi online and get an idea on which ones are the popular choices. Some lecturers also explained the rationale of picking a certain textbook in their syllabus. Mar 25, 2015 at 13:37
  • Sure. Presence of a book in syllabi means just that it is popular (was it chosen because its good, or because of other constraints?). But comments are invaluable, see example this list: bactra.org/notebooks/information-theory.html. Mar 25, 2015 at 13:56
  • @Penguin_Knight: My personal opinion is that the most popular calculus book in existence is absolutely terrible. But I suspect that this is largely a function of my own tastes and biases, and I'm asking because I want to second-guess these. An example of what I'm hoping to read is a defense of this book, explaining why somebody thinks it's good and making claims as to how students benefit from it.
    – Anonymous
    Mar 25, 2015 at 17:20
  • I'll also add that @PiotrMigdal's advice is exactly what I do for upper-level books, but for calculus books there are a large number of reviews which I don't trust.
    – Anonymous
    Mar 25, 2015 at 17:21
  • @Anonymous For this particular topic, did you try matheducators.stackexchange.com ? Or look here: Mathematical analysis - text book recommendation sought - math.SE. FYI: personally, I think that Fichtenholz + Rudin is a good choice. Mar 25, 2015 at 19:26

I would ask the publisher for a free copy of the book for you to base your decision on. If you will be using it in your class for some years it will be week worth sending you the book.

I would ask the same of other publishers, and make it known to the representatives of the publishers your in the market for a new book

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