As part of day two of the #loveyourmath campaign, I wanted to share a math book that has recently become one of my favorites, namely Eulerian Numbers by T. Kyle Petersen (DePaul University). The book was published in late 2015. According Springer:

This text presents the Eulerian numbers in the context of modern enumerative, algebraic, and geometric combinatorics. The book first studies Eulerian numbers from a purely combinatorial point of view, then embarks on a tour of how these numbers arise in the study of hyperplane arrangements, polytopes, and simplicial complexes. Some topics include a thorough discussion of gamma-nonnegativity and real-rootedness for Eulerian polynomials, as well as the weak order and the shard intersection order of the symmetric group.

The book also includes a parallel story of Catalan combinatorics, wherein the Eulerian numbers are replaced with Narayana numbers. Again there is a progression from combinatorics to geometry, including discussion of the associahedron and the lattice of noncrossing partitions.

The final chapters discuss how both the Eulerian and Narayana numbers have analogues in any finite Coxeter group, with many of the same enumerative and geometric properties. There are four supplemental chapters throughout, which survey more advanced topics, including some open problems in combinatorial topology.

This textbook will serve a resource for experts in the field as well as for graduate students and others hoping to learn about these topics for the first time.​

Generally speaking, most of my research in pure mathematics falls in the category of algebraic combinatorics. However, I’ve had very little formal training in combinatorics. It turns out that I know quite a bit about Catalan combinatorics, but again, it’s not a subject that I’ve explicitly studied. Prior to opening the book, I knew next to nothing about Eulerian numbers, let alone Narayana numbers.

Right around the time I found out I would be teaching our graduate combinatorics class during the Fall 2016 semester, I learned about Kyle’s book. I was really looking forward to teaching the class because I figured that one of the best ways to fill in my lack of formal training in combinatorics was to teach a class about it. After thumbing through Kyle’s book (and thinking, “wow, I don’t really know any of this stuff!”), I decided that I could run the class as a sort of “topics course” focusing on Eulerian numbers and Catalan combinatorics while hitting many of the core ideas of enumerative combinatorics along the way. As a bonus, I would be forced to learn lots of cool things that relate to my research interests, many of which I probably should have know more about anyway.

I’m currently in week 5 of my Topics in Combinatorics graduate course in which we are closely following Kyle’s book. Despite the fact that we’ve barely covered two chapters, I’m absolutely in love with the book and the content. It’s so much fun! I have to admit that I don’t always know which specific topics are key ideas and which are just fun side stories, but I think that’s mostly true every time one teaches a course for the first time. One of the things I really like about the themes in the book is that connects with cutting edge research topics. We’re learning about “current events” in algebraic/enumerative combinatorics.

My only minor complaint is that I wish Kyle provided less detail in the hints/solutions for the exercises in the back of the book. On the other hand, there have been a couple times where I’ve thought, “geez, there’s no way I would have ever come up with that argument without significant guidance.”

Note: The #loveyourmath 5-day campaign is sponsored by the Mathematical Association of America. The goal of the campaign is to engage a general audience across a broad representation of mathematics, whether it is biology, patterns, textbooks, art, or puzzles.


Dana C. Ernst

Mathematics & Teaching

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