Books That Inspire 2004

Advanced Mathematical Methods for Scientists and Engineers
Carl M.Bender

What! A mathematics textbook as an inspiration? But actually this is a great book, one of the few technical treatises I have read cover-to-cover. The title is somewhat misleading, because it really deals with asymptotic methods, the behavior of mathematical functions when some parameter gets (say) very large. Since few mathematical problems can be solved exactly, such techniques are the bread and butter of the practicing scientist or engineer. The subject is treated pedagogically and elegantly, and there is much wit. For example, each chapter begins with a short quotation from Sherlock Holmes. This book is an inspiration because not only are techniques beautifully explained, but it shows that extremely complex and apparently insolvable problems are amenable to systematic understanding, a lesson that I practice every day in my research.
Kimball Milton
Physics and Astronomy