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When choosing some mathematics book to study, is it always the case that one should look for the current edition of the book. Are there any examples when the older edition of some book is clearly better than the latest version?

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closed as not constructive by Harry Gindi, Terry Tao, Charles Siegel, Qiaochu Yuan, François G. Dorais Jun 27 '10 at 19:12

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Community wiki? – Andy Putman Jun 27 '10 at 14:54
I'd be curious what anyone has to say about Fulton's Algebraic Curves. It seems to me that earlier versions cover considerably more material than the current version, which is pretty streamlined. – Qiaochu Yuan Jun 27 '10 at 17:10
This question now has a meta thread -… – François G. Dorais Jun 27 '10 at 17:17
How do I vote to reopen this question? I think it is very useful to know (and not at all subjective) when a new edition omits sections of the old, changes notation, introduces new errors, etc. – John Stillwell Jun 27 '10 at 23:24
John, I've copied your comment to the meta discussion. – Victor Protsak Jun 28 '10 at 10:48

Usually a newer edition is something that at least the author and publisher considered an improvement, so any answers are rather subjective. That said,

  • Ian Stewart's Galois Theory, 3rd edition, is sometimes harshly criticized for ruining a great book, by (1) doing everything over the complex numbers first (leading to some long-winded proofs), and (2) being full of typos. The former is a conscious choice of the author, so its merits are debatable, but at any rate it's a substantially different book from the 2nd edition.

  • Calculus Made Easy, by Silvanus P. Thompson. This 1910 classic was updated in 1998 by Martin Gardner, but because both the authors are "men of strong individuality", the difference in styles can be somewhat jarring. Also, John Baez complains that:

    Alas, the new edition has been puffed up to 336 pages by Martin Gardener. People must want calculus to seem hard.

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Stewart's Galois Theory was the first book that came to my mind when I saw the question, and for exactly the reasons stated. – Gerry Myerson Jun 27 '10 at 23:26

Hausdorff's book Mengenlehre in the first edition had an appendix, omitted in subsequent editions, on the Banach paradox. (Later made into the Banach-Tarski paradox by Tarski...) Someone once told me this was the best, most elementary, presentation of it -- I haven't compared different versions of the proof myself.

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Strictly speaking, it's the Hausdorff paradox in the first edition of Mengenlehre (the one about the sphere, rather than the ball). I wouldn't say that it's technically the simplest presentation, because it uses the modular group rather than a free group, but still it is a big disappointment that it was omitted from later editions. – John Stillwell Jun 28 '10 at 0:18

Ian Stewart, Galois theory.

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Any chance you could elaborate on why the older edition is better? – Charles Siegel Jun 27 '10 at 15:08
@CharlesSiegel Personally, when I was studying Galois theory, I found the second edition better because it matched my course. We did things over fields of any characteristic, not just characteristic $0$, which is what the third edition focuses on. On the one hand a lot of examples were from polynomials over $\Bbb Q$, but you actually miss out on what strange things can happen over finite fields if you don't consider them. While the end goal might be to look at solubility by radicals, it doesn't hurt to state things over a general field, except possibly to modify a proof or two. – snulty 4 hours ago

This kind of thing is very subjective, but in my opinion the third edition of Computability and Logic by Boolos and Jeffrey is better than the fourth, at least from the point of view of someone interested in the advanced topics (as opposed to a student encountering the material for the first time). Some of the more interesting advanced topics were cut from the fourth edition.

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The fourth edition had acquired a new author.... – Robin Chapman Jun 27 '10 at 17:51

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