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By Bradley J Roth
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Calculus Made Easy

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Intermediate Physics for Medicine and Biology assumes the reader knows calculus. Most medical doctors and biologists have studied some calculus, but I’m not sure they remember much of it. And most high school students, and even college freshman, have yet to take their first calculus course. What should these readers of IPMB do if they don’t know any calculus?  

Calculus Made Easy,
by Silvanus Thompson.

What these readers need is a quick and easy way to learn calculus without delving into all the subtle and complicated details. How can they do that? Read the delightful old book Calculus Made Easy, by Silvanus Thompson. Here’s the prologue:

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 textbooks 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 know what you’re thinking: “That sounds like just what I need, but how much is it going to cost me?” The good news is that you can access the book for free online, at

Silvanus P. Thompson

The author, Silvanus Phillips Thompson (1851–1916), was an English physicist and a fellow of the Royal Society. I have a particular fondness for physicists from the Victorian era, especially one such as Thompson who was interested in science education and whose strength was his ability to explain difficult concepts clearly.

For those of you turned off by the dated style of Calculus Made Easy, written in 1910, I suggest Quick Calculus or Used Math instead. For those who, like me, love the Victorian style, I recommend Flatland by Edwin Abbott.


Calculus Made Easy, by Silvanus P. Thompson, Part 1/2. A LibriVox audiobook.

Calculus Made Easy, by Silvanus P. Thompson, Part 2/2. A LibriVox audiobook.


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