Geometric topology is more motivated by objects it wants to prove theorems about. Geometric topology is very much motivated by low-dimensional phenomena -- and the very notion of low-dimensional phenomena being special is due to the existence of a big tool called the Whitney Trick, which allows one to readily convert certain problems in manifold theory into (sometimes quite complicated) algebraic problems. The thing is the Whitney trick fails in dimensions 4 and lower.

As to my background, I've learnt Boothby's book "An Introduction to Diffential Manifolds ...". I recently want to dive in some depth into Geometric Topology. But I found the literature is quite a mess. Could anyone suggest a textbook or at least a sequence of books and papers(but not too many) that leads to the frontier of this field?

  • $\begingroup$ Also posted on math.SE: math.stackexchange.com/q/128962/5363 $\endgroup$ – Theo Buehler Apr 7 '12 at 11:56
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    $\begingroup$ There's now a great answer on the above link. Check it. $\endgroup$ – caozhu Apr 7 '12 at 13:05
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    $\begingroup$ Some of us still care about geometric topology of high-dimensional manifolds. $\endgroup$ – Greg Friedman Apr 14 '12 at 1:42

Geometric topology is not really a unique field in the way that algebraic topology and general topology are. Its various subareas may share something of a common feel (and indeed an arxiv category), but are often too diverse to have any common techniques. Those areas include, for instance:

Low-dimensional topology (classical knots, 3-manifolds, 4-manifolds, etc.)

Morse theory, simple homotopy theory and algebraic K-theory of spaces

Dimension theory (of separable metrizable spaces)

Topology of manifolds (surgery theory, codimension two knots, etc.)

Singularity theory (of smooth maps), geometric immersion theory (dealing e.g. with 4-tuple points of sphere eversions)

PL topology (block bundles, collapsing, bistellar moves, etc.)

Generalized manifolds, wild knots, etc.

Group actions on manifolds

Manifold structures (smoothing/trangulability and the Hauptvermutung; also Lipschitz structures, CD-manifolds, ... )

Embedding theory (smooth embeddings of projective spaces, PL embeddings of polyhedra, etc.)

I surely forgot to mention many important subjects here; even the grouping of items in this list is rather arbitrary (and the order is random). The point is, you will probably not get far with diving in some depth into geometric topology unless you're more specific on what you're interested in. If unsure, try some knot theory or low-dimensional manifolds. These now cover more than half of all geometric topology by any count. Ryan and Jim gave some good suggestions of starting points in their math.SE answers, such as Rolfsen's 'Knots and links'. There are also other flavors of low-dimensional topology.

There exist some books and courses mentioning 'geometric topology' in the title, but they are often specialized and/or advanced. For instance, the 'geometric topology' notes by Sullivan and Lurie are mostly focused on manifold structures, and are firmly grounded in methods which are very clever and useful, but kind of external to geometric topology (localization, Galois theory and simplicial sets). Likewise, Bing's 'Geometric topology of 3-manifolds' and Moise's 'Geometric topology in dimension 2 and 3' are mostly about wild things. (There's definitely a trend in the literature that if geometric topology gets explicitly mentioned, things are likely not all smooth or PL.)

Arguably, closer to the point are Fenn's 'Techniques of geometric topology' and Ferry's 'Geometric topology notes'. Even these two virtually don't overlap with each other, so they are certainly not equivalents of some canonical algebraic topology text such as Spanier's or Hatcher's. But perhaps closer to such an equivalent than anything else that I can think of.

  • $\begingroup$ Being in the "unsure" stage, I'll take your advice to try some knot theory or low-dimensional manifolds first. $\endgroup$ – caozhu Apr 9 '12 at 10:16
  • $\begingroup$ I'm using the Chmutov-Duzhin-Mostovoy book on Vassiliev invariants in a course right now. I highly recommend it. $\endgroup$ – Jim Conant Apr 11 '12 at 15:04
  • $\begingroup$ I want to recommend Rushing's "Topological Embeddings" and Wilder's "Topology of Manifolds" as best references for the heavy machinery underpinnings. Daverman's book on decompositions is well-known but I do not have personal experience with it. These are on the topological side of the spectrum. "A Primer on Mapping Class Groups" is also nice. $\endgroup$ – John Samples Jun 23 '18 at 4:41

The lecture notes on geometric topology from Harvard are a good reference. This has all the depth necessary regarding the subject. Here is the link [repaired by O'Rourke]:

Curtis McMullen's 2003 course notes (PDF)

Lecture notes are a good start to learning the topic since the introduction will be given at an ideal pace. If these don't serve to assist in the learning of the interesting subject, take a look at the books mentioned at the stackexchange link mentioned in the comments: https://math.stackexchange.com/questions/128962/reference-on-geometric-topology

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    $\begingroup$ Your first link does not work. $\endgroup$ – Alan Apr 8 '12 at 15:26
  • $\begingroup$ @Jaivir: I tried to repair your incomplete link. Guessing as to which you intended to refer... $\endgroup$ – Joseph O'Rourke Apr 9 '12 at 0:17
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    $\begingroup$ Those McMullen "notes" are maybe more of a pencil sketch style survey. $\endgroup$ – Ryan Budney Apr 9 '12 at 1:14

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