Explaining complex things simply: Wise words from Silvanus P Thompson

A good friend of mine showed me his treasured copy of ‘Calculus Made Easy’ by Silvanus P Thompson, first published in 1910. Here’s the front cover…

Calculus Made Easy - Cover


First published in 1910, here are some wise words on explaining complex things simply from Silvanus…

CONSIDERING how many fools can calculate, it is surprising that it should be thought either a difficult or a tedious task for any other fool to learn how to master the same tricks. Some calculus-tricks are quite easy. Some are enormously difficult. The fools who write the text-books of advanced mathematics—and they are mostly clever fools—seldom take the trouble to show you how easy the easy calculations are. On the contrary, they seem to desire to impress you with their tremendous cleverness by going about it in the most difficult way. Being myself a remarkably stupid fellow, I have had to unteach myself the difficulties, and now beg to present to my fellow fools the parts that are not hard, Master these thoroughly, and the rest will follow. What one fool can do, another can.

I just love this approach. Silvanus must have done something right, he sold over a million copies. It’s still in print, but now has a picture of the space shuttle on the front. I think the cover designer of the modern edition may have missed the point.

Written in 1910, the book is now public domain, under US copyright law, so can be downloaded for free from the project Gutenberg website. Calculus Made Easy download

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