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The best Algebra book in the world?

Wednesday, November 18th, 2009

In my seven years as math tutor, I’ve probably worked with twenty algebra books. Hands down, no contest, this is the absolute best I have used: Algebra: Structure and Method, Book 1. (Brown, Richard G. et al. McDougal Littell, Evanston, Illinois: 2000.)

This book doesn’t have a ton of frills—there are barely any pictures or “extras.” But
what makes this book exceptional is its GREAT sequencing. It does an excellent job of breaking the math down without dumbing it down. The problems get harder very incrementally. There are so many practice problems to choose from that you can really practice until each procedure becomes second nature. And the book only introduces new concepts once you’ve already mastered the prerequisite skills.

For example, when this book introduces factoring trinomials, it introduces each pattern that you might encounter one at a time. You practice that pattern extensively before facing a new pattern. Once you’ve practiced all the different patterns separately, THEN it mixes all the different patterns together in one problem set. But by now you know how to recognize the different patterns and what to do differently for each pattern. So when faced with a page full of different types of factoring patterns, you can just think, “OH—difference of squares!” or “OH—perfect squares!” instead of having to do trial and error until you erase a hole in your paper!!

The students I’ve used this book with acquire very, very strong algebra skills without getting bored or frustrated. And I think it’s because the sequencing forces students to learn how to “chunk,” a concept I learned from Daniel T. Willingham’s book, Why Don’t Students Like School?

For example, take two algebra students. One is still a little shaky on the distributive property, the other knows it cold. When the first student is trying to solve a problem and sees a(b + c), he’s unsure whether that’s the same as ab + c, or b + ac, or ab + ac. So he stops working on the problem and substitutes small numbers into a(b + c) to be sure he’s got it right. The second student recognizes a(b + c) as a chunk and doesn’t need to stop and occupy working memory with this subcomponent of the problem. Clearly the second student is more likely to complete the problem successfully. (p 31)

Thank you, thank you to those who wrote this book so chunk-fully: Richard G. Brown, Mary P. Dolciani, Robert H. Sorgenfrey, and William L. Cole!

Tagged In: Topics: recommended resources

43 Comments on “The best Algebra book in the world?”

  • Julie on January 13th 1:50 pm

    Hi Rebecca,

    I saw your post on “The Best Algebra book in the World.” I am looking for a book that will simply explain each step in an algebra function. I am in an algebra class for the first time in 15 years and I am scared speechless. I hate this stuff. The instructor said as long as I know how to do what is on the reviews for the test than I should be okay. Learning what is on the reviews is where I have problems. Thanks!

  • Rebecca Zook on January 13th 2:41 pm

    Julie, thanks for stopping by! I am glad to help. I also highly, highly recommend Danica McKellar’s math books. You can get them on amazon or any library. A lot of adults find them really helpful, and she’s great at breaking things down and working things through step by step. Plus they are fun to read! Lots of people are scared speechless about math–you are not alone! I believe in you!!

  • Edgar on June 21st 5:11 am

    I have heard this is a good book, but I doubt that it tops Paul Foerster’s Algebra 1 book. Are you familiar with it?

  • Rebecca Zook on June 21st 8:02 pm

    Edgar, it’s nice to see you here! I haven’t worked with that book yet. Thanks for the suggestion!

  • Edgar on June 21st 8:33 pm

    Mathematically Correct has ranked a series of Algebra 1 books, and Brown’s book scores very high. In fact, Brown’s book scores in 2nd place, with only one book topping it. Can you guess which book? Yes, you guessed it – Foerster’s! Haha, I hated math until I discovered Foerster! I like to say that I preach the good news of Paul Foerster.

  • Rebecca Zook on June 22nd 1:41 pm

    I will have to check that out! I haven’t heard of Mathematically Correct. I’m really glad you found a book that you like so much!!

  • […] Posts: The best algebra book in the world? I am SO EXCITED about Math U See! Q&A with Danica McKellar, author of Hot X: Algebra Exposed! […]

  • […] be able to check his answers without having to wait to see me. So, as a supplemental text, we added another algebra textbook that had better sequencing and more practice problems. In the end, we relied on it more than the […]

  • Cricket on August 28th 12:53 pm

    Thank you for this review. I have used Foerster’s algebra, and he does skip a couple of steps. I do not know if it is corrected in later editions, but he does make an assumption that the student knows to divide the fraction in a chapter 2 problem.

    I think an algebra text should be so thorough in the explanations that no answer key or solutions manual is necessary.

  • Rebecca Zook on August 29th 7:45 pm

    Hey Cricket, it’s great to meet you here! Thanks for your comment! I think every book has its strengths and weaknesses, but I have used this with many students. Some students need more preparation for it in terms of being really comfortable with the prerequisites like fractions and decimals. I’d love to hear more about resources you recommend!

  • Ashlee on January 30th 8:46 am

    I need help. My son is in 9th grde, is very intelligent, but struggles a lot with math. He is in Algebra and is frustrated and barely getting by. Is your book a good book to help him? He needs something that explains each step,& would be helpful if there are tests or actually problems to solve at the end of each part. He especially struggles with word problems. I have purchased Danica McKeller’s books as well as a “Dr Math” book. I dont know what to do to help him.

  • Rebecca Zook on January 30th 3:10 pm

    Ashlee, Thanks so much for your comment, it’s great to “meet” you here! Based on what you described, I would highly recommend Danica McKellar’s books for your situation. This particular textbook might not do the trick for what it sounds like your son is going through. Your question is actually making me think it’s time for an updated post about more algebra resources!

    Also, while I haven’t used the Algebra book yet myself, some of my students really like Teaching Textbooks. Here’s the link to their algebra textbook: They are really excellent with the step-by-step teaching and having solutions to all the problems so you can check your work.

    Math-U-See is another great resource that really makes sure students understand the concepts: . Both of those also include instructional DVDs.

    If you’re feeling like your son really just needs personal attention and feedback and you’re interested in him being tutored, I would be happy to set up a time for us to talk and explore whether or not it would make sense for us to work together. All you would need to do is give me a call at 617-888-0160 or email me at and we would set up a time for us to have a complimentary conversation, just so I could learn more about your situation.

  • Tammy on February 6th 11:50 pm

    I am hoping you can make some suggestions. I have a 7th grader who is in pre-algebra. In looking at some of your previous recommendations, it appears that his pre-algebra book actually combines some topics covered in pre-algebra with some that are in algebra 1. Specifically, the name of his book is Big Ideas Math (blue book) by Ron Larson. I find it very difficult to understand, and it is not easy to learn the concepts from the book alone. My son has always been a strong math student; however, he is having some difficulty this 2nd semester. For example, he is having trouble grasping some of the concepts surrounding linear and nonlinear functions and how to determine which type of function it is by an equation or table. Another example of a type of problem he is struggling with: Y+ 1/3x + 1 (With the instructions: a line with slope of 1/3 contains the point (6,1). What is the equation of the line?) What textbook, on-line videos, etc would you recommend for thoroughly EXPLAINING every concept in a simple, easy to understand manner (whereby a student could learn everything they need to be extremely successful without needing classroom instruction)? We’re not looking for a workbook of extra problems; we’re looking for a resource that would TEACH him in very basic (easy to understand), yet thorough method on how to understand the concepts and figure out the problems. So, something that goes into very clear detail on how to solve each of the problems a student would need to know in each section of content. Ideally, we would love to have a video series as well that would demonstrate the concepts and serve as a virtual classroom. Please respond at your very earliest convenience. We need some help right away; he has a test mid-week, next week.
    Thanks so much.

  • Pret on December 9th 1:18 am

    Any recommendation for Algebra2 text book? Thanks

  • Rebecca Zook on December 20th 3:03 pm

    Hey there, Pret! It’s nice to “meet” you here! I frequently use this textbook with my students – it’s the Algebra 2 sequel to the Algebra 1 book I mention in this post:

    Let me know how it goes!

  • Find Online Tutor on March 1st 6:27 am

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  • Math Online Tutors on April 9th 3:59 am

    Math is a number game subject . One can be expert in this subject by learning and doing and can get maximum marks .

  • Math Online Tutors on April 18th 4:40 am

    Math is a very interesting subject . Student can make their marks average very high from this subject . Online tutoring can be additional benefit for increase in their marks and improve their overall average .

  • susan on May 26th 5:15 pm

    My son will be entering 12th grade next year, and taking calculus. But, his math teacher told me he should brush up on his algebra 2/trig. What book or books would you recommend for him to use to help improve his understanding? Thanks.

  • Ric Kohlbeck on August 23rd 10:49 pm

    I find that Paul Forester’s book is much better at explaining Algebra then the Mcdougal one.

    have you had a chance to check out the book.

    its wonderful. I own them both and go back to the Forester book all the time.

  • Thankks for finally talming about >Rebecca Zook – Math Tutoring Online

  • Ms. Sara on October 9th 9:56 am

    Would you recomend Algebra Structure and Method Book 2 as much as Book 1?

  • Rebecca Zook on November 28th 10:05 pm

    Hey there! So sorry for the delay in answering your question – I’m just seeing this now for some reason. Book 2 is also quite solid, though for some reason I find myself reaching for Book 1 more frequently, just because I find students need extra practice on the prerequisite ideas covered in Book 1. If you’ve already done Book 1 and are just looking for a good Alg 2 book, you could totally go with Book 2. If you haven’t done Book 1 already I would get it as a companion if you find you need extra practice with the prerequisite concepts. Hope this is helpful!

  • Leonel on November 7th 3:47 pm

    It’s really a nice and helpful piece of info. I am
    satisfied that you just shared this helpful information with us.
    Please keep us informed like this. Thank youu for sharing.

  • cece on June 18th 3:46 pm

    Hi Rebecca I,m just asking you a quick question here it goes okay so my daughter needs help with her math I,m wondering if you could be her tutor for the summer I would gladly appreciate it thank you

  • Rebecca Zook on June 29th 8:24 pm

    Hey there! I’m just seeing this comment now. I’m going to move this conversation to email since it’s easier for me to keep track of these kinds of inquiries via email 🙂

  • Calvin Nguyen on March 9th 6:35 pm

    Dear Rebecca,
    Which Algebra 2 textbook do you recommend ? My son is 6th grader, finishing the Saxon Algebra 1, and he gets bored with the repetition and also complaints that there are just a few problems relating to the topics .
    Your recommendation is appreciated. Thank you.

  • Rebecca Zook on March 14th 1:19 pm

    The Algebra 2 “sequel” to this Algebra 1 book is pretty solid, though no textbook is going to be perfect: Algebra 2 “The Classic”

  • Hannah on March 27th 1:29 pm

    Hi Rebecca! I have enjoyed using your website for reference as I do some tutoring of my own. This Algebra book you recommended has worked very well for me and my students. Do you have a recommendation for a Geometry textbook that you like?

  • Rebecca Zook on March 28th 1:05 pm

    Hey Hannah! Great to “meet” you here. I like the Geometry book that’s a companion to this algebra book, by McDougal Littell: here

    Math U See also has a good geometry book as well: Math U See Geometry

  • Annie on April 21st 6:29 pm

    I have the textbook and teacher edition of this copyright 2000. Do you know the ISBN of the solutions key? Or if there is a supplemental piece that has the worked out solutions to problems. My Algebra is a little rusty and I find it would be helpful to see the worked-through solutions for the problem sets (as opposed to just the answer).

  • Sol on July 5th 1:15 am

    Hi Rebecca, you are really a math lover with a great deal of compassion for teaching. Wonderful.
    Would you please recommend textbook for pre-calculus or calculus? Thanks!
    If possible, please kindly forward one reply via email address. Very much appreciated!!

  • debbie on July 10th 9:27 pm

    Any recommendations as to good websites for learning 9th grade algebra 1. My son is studying this summer to try to test out of algebra 1. His book Algebra 1 by Larson is useless. I am also finding that there seems to be much “variation” at to what constitutes algebra 1, ie with ixl site and mathhelps algebra 1 seems too basic and more in line with his pre-algebra class.
    Why is he trying to test out ?? Because we transferred into the district for 8th grade, and despite having a 4.0 average for all years at his old school , he was placed in a basic level class and dispite his maintaining a 100% in that class, no one ever mentioned placing him in the honors class and when I ask why he couldn’t take honors math in high school the answer was that he was would be too far behind because the honors kids all had algebra 1 in 8th grade.

  • Rebecca Zook on July 11th 9:05 pm

    Hey there! I saw your comment on my blog and I just wanted to personally reach out.

    I hear you’re looking for support for your son in learning algebra 1 and testing into the honors class where he belongs.

    I know your question is about websites to learn algebra. My personal expertise is actually in helping students learn one-on-one so they can really meet their goals and stay on track.

    Would you like to explore if it would be a fit for me to work with your son in one of my one-on-one tutoring programs?

    If so, I invite you to fill out this special application.

    Once your application is received, I’ll reach out to schedule a special phone call for us to get clear on if it would be a match!

    I look forward to receiving your completed application 🙂

    Sending you love,

  • Laura on January 5th 3:53 am


    I appreciate your article as I have just purchased the Algebra Structure and Method book and am awaiting it’s arrival. What are your thoughts on Harold Jacobs Elementary Algebra compared to it?


  • Rebecca Zook on January 6th 3:59 pm

    Hey there, Laura! I actually haven’t used the other book you mentioned. Let me know what you think about Algebra Structure and Method!

  • Jean on August 28th 12:19 am

    Hi Rebecca, what would you consider the best pre algebra book to use before this one or the paul foreester one?

  • Rebecca Zook on September 4th 7:09 pm

    Hey there, nice to “meet” you here! I usually use Math-U-See pre-algebra. Sending you love!

  • pink sheets on March 9th 11:25 pm

    An impressive share! I have just forwarded this onto a friend who had been doing a
    little homework on this. And he in fact ordered me
    breakfast because I found it for him… lol. So allow me to reword this….
    Thanks for the meal!! But yeah, thanks for spending
    some time to discuss this issue here on your web site.

  • Sondra on July 9th 3:57 pm

    Hi Rebecca!
    What are your suggestions/recommendations for preparing kids for Algebra 2 this summer in order to get them ready for this up coming fall/spring semester? Also, we will need to review and fill-in some missing Algebra 1 skills.


  • Roger Vaught on December 29th 4:09 pm

    Ms Zook, after reading, “How I Rewired My Brain to Become Fluent in Math”

    I searched for the best remedial Algebra book and found your site. Very interesting. I’m revisiting algebra at 78 just for the fun of it and appreciate your and Edgar’s recommendations.


  • Renee on November 7th 10:15 pm

    Thank you for this post. I home school my daughter and decided to get this book. I compared it to several other Algebra 1 books and it was the winner! Definitely takes a lot of baby steps, which my 6th grader will totally benefit from.

    Can you make any suggestions on any middle school books for 6th grade math that are similar to Richard G Brown’s book in it’s simple instruction and baby steps?

  • Rebecca Zook on November 7th 10:34 pm

    Hey Renee! Thanks for your comment, it’s nice to “meet” you here! My favorite books for 6th grade math are the Math U See series, which I first wrote about here: And you can look up the full curriculum here: They do a great job of really breaking down the steps, which is so important! sending you love, RZ

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