Best Precalculus Textbook

Nov 2019
Do you recommend David Cohen's Precalculus With Unit Circle Trigonometry Edition 3 as a good self-study textbook? What about the Schaum's Precalculus book?


MHF Helper
Feb 2007
New York, USA
I'm not sure if my opinion here would be agreed with widely, but at this level, I think most textbooks are good enough. "Good" or "bad" comes down to the list of topics that are covered in the text. But I've never read a precalculus text and was like, "Wow, that was a good precalculus text".

In my mind, a "Good" or "OK" precalc text comes down to two things:

1) Is it comprehensive enough in terms of the topics it covers for what a precalc student should know for success in future math classes.
2) Are there a LOT of practice problems. Because at this level, practice and overemersion is where success lies, not how one author explains polynomial long division compared to some other author.

There comes a point where this is no longer true, but I think that point is after multivariable calculus.

What I use for my precalculus class is this book, and to me it is fine. It's expensive to buy, but I don't require my students to buy it. Often they can rent, or buy a used copy and many of my students somehow come buy a pdf version of it. You can find the list of topics I teach as well as the practice problems I assign here.

Schuam's Outlines tend to also be OK. I like them for quick reference purposes, but again, for precalc, that's actually fine. They tend to have a lot of practice problems and so, for precalculus (or calculus, or complex analysis, or differential equations, ...) I'd tend to recommend them to anyone seeking greater proficiency in the subject.

Never read Cohen's precalculus, but without even doing so, I'm confident it is fine.

In summary, especially in today's world, where you can find a video of someone teaching almost anything on youtube and Khan academy, something like a precalc text doesn't really matter. Find something within your price range with a lot of practice problems in the topics you care about, and use internet searches to fill in any gaps they may have.
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