Calculus for Cats

by Kenn Amdahl and Jim Loats, Ph.D

ISBN 0-9627815-5-x


258 pages, trade paper, first printing 2001


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This is an introduction to the concepts and vocabulary of calculus, for people about to take their first calculus course. No exercises to solve, this is a book to simply read. If you enjoyed Algebra Unplugged, by the same authors, and found it useful, this is the book to send you even farther down the road to mathematical enlightenment.

Calculus For Cats starts from the logical premise that cats are really aliens who have taken over our planet and forced humans to do their bidding. Think about it. It explains a lot. To keep humans in their place (providing expensive food, warm laps and lovely curtain-toys) they must keep us ignorant of some of the more elegant mysteries of the universe, like calculus. While discussing the pursuit of linear mice and quadratic mice, the authors speak in language that even a dog could understand as they unravel the processes encountered in a first year course. It’s a book of concepts, not a book of problems and solutions. What is a derivative and why would I want one? What is a slope, a logarithm, what do the letters e and u mean to the cult of the mathematically blessed, etc. Before traveling to an exotic land, wise tourists learn the simple phrases and customs. Why risk inadvertently insulting the local warlord or militia, right? The smart tourist want every insult to be intentional.

Same deal with math. If you’re going to take a calculus class it helps to understand the terms ahead of time too. Do you want to be the only rookie who doesn’t laugh at the instructor’s minima/maxima joke? If you know someone about to take calculus, this book is the ideal gift. If you know someone struggling with calculus, this could be the code book they desperately need. And if you know someone who’s already getting an A in calculus, hey, it couldn’t hurt. If you know someone who has very little chance of ever taking a calculus course, consider this book the duct tape and plastic sheeting of mathematical emergency preparedness. It costs so little, and if they ever need it, they will thank you profusely.

Perhaps less obvious, this is the ideal gift for that person on your list who has absolutely no interest in math but has an obsession with all things feline. They’ve already got the cat salt and pepper shakers, they’ve already got the cat-shaped clock, they wear tabby slippers and sleep on Garfield pillows. One might despair finding that perfect gift no one else has thought of. Or that their pet hasn’t already destroyed.

We guarantee, they don’t have a calculus book for their cat yet. But you must hurry. We both know it’s just a matter of time.

Reviews and Blurbs:

Keith Devlin

“”Calculus for Cats is not a “how to book, it’s a “what is it?” book, and a darned fine one at that. Amdahl and Loats have found a witty approach that explains the fundamental ideas clearly and simply without talking down to the reader. Definitely a “two thumbs up.”

Keith Devlin, Stanford University, NPR’s “Math Guy” author of The Language of Mathematics, Making the Invisible Visible, and Life by the Numbers, and The Math Instinct: Why You’re a Mathematical Genius (along with lobsters, birds, cats and dogs).

Famous inventor Dean Kaman was interviewed by the New York Academy of Sciences. They asked him about books he was reading, books he might recommend. He recommended Calculus for Cats. The interview is part of a radio show you can listen to at If you move the player thing to about ten and a half minutes into the interview you can skip all the boring stuff that isn’t about this book.

The American Mathematical Monthly

“An “alternative” (to put it mildly) treatment of first-semester calculus, emphasizing chatty explanations, de-emphasizing calculations, and entirely omitting exercises; studies what calculus is about rather than how it’s done. Some discussion is helpful (e.g., a clear description of variables and their relations); some is misleading (“Finding … derivatives . . . is the central task of calculus.”) Tone will strike some as friendly, others as relentlessly cute.
Paul Zorn

Made me want to sign up for Calculus! This book was amazing. It took something that we, from the outside of the math world, find enormously complex and confusing and through imagery and the imagination of the authors, made it understandable and accessible. I recommend it highly, especially to anyone who is about to take calculus for the first time. If you read this, you will be able to conceptualize what you are learning about….essential to truly understanding mathematics.

“mabear324” online review,

Cynthia D Holcomb:

“Calculus for Cats is another breath of fresh air from the authors fo Algebra Unplugged. The authors’ sense of humor, adept use of analogy, and realistic grasp of the subject matter will make this book a valuable and enjoyable addition for anyone who is or has suffered through traditional courses.”

Cynthia D. Holcomb, Ph.D Cornell University, research chemical engineer, President, Aquatic and Fitness Professionals Association- International.

“A brand new book by the authors of Algebra Unplugged.”

Here’s what they said about Algebra Unplugged:

“One of our all-time favorite books. This book is aimed specifically at the math phobes. It is written in an up-beat, humorous style that avoids the usual “math teacher jargon.” Totally cool!”

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