Textbooks on set theory

I want to do a survey of textbooks in set theory. Amazon returns 3582 books for the keywords “set theory”. A small somewhat random selection with number of references in Google scholar is the following.

Two questions:

  • What textbooks in set-theory are considered standard?

  • What is a good place to aggregate standard references (of textbooks)?

(I’m only interested in text-books, which as a format already provide a kind of standardization)

Textbooks on set theory (author: title (year) #Google Scholar citations )

  • Thomas J. Jech: Set Theory 3rd Edition (1978) #2441
  • Kenneth Kunen: Set Theory (1980) #1881
  • P. R. Halmos: Naive Set Theory (1974) #1079
  • AA Fraenkel, Y Bar-Hillel, A Levy: Foundations of set theory (1973) #696
  • K Kuratowski, A Mostowski, M Mączyński: Set theory (1976) #609
  • Suppes: Axiomatic set theory (1972) #589
  • Quine: Set theory and its logic (1969) #442
  • A Levy: Basic set theory (1979) #442
  • Herbert B. Enderton: Elements of Set Theory (1977) #349
  • Karel Hrbacek, Thomas J. Jech: Introduction to set theory (1999) #284
  • RR Stoll: Set theory and logic (1979) #281
  • N. Bourbaki: theory of sets (1970) #211
  • K Devlin: The joy of sets: fundamentals of contemporary set theory (1994) #182
  • Ciesielski: Set theory for the working mathematician (1997) #156
  • YN Moschovakis: Notes on set theory (1994) #138
  • FW Lawvere: Sets for mathematics (2003) #118
  • G Takeuti, WM Zaring: Introduction to axiomatic set theory (1982) #106
  • Kaplansky: Set Theory and Metric Spaces (2001) #103
  • Potter: Set Theory and Its Philosophy: A Critical Introduction (2004) #91
  • PT Johnstone: Notes on logic and set theory (1987) #87
  • Judith Roitman: Introduction to Modern Set Theory (1990) #47
  • Derek Goldrei: Set Theory: For Guided Independent Study (1996) #31
  • Basic set theory: A Shen, NK Vereshchagin (2002) #14
  • Ralf Schindler: Set Theory (2014) #13
  • Foreman, Kanamori: Handbook of Set Theory (2009) #38

Please feel free to add textbooks to the list, as long as they are not just on a smaller subset of set theory. (Some of the dates might not be the first published edition.)


(Excerpted from an earlier version of a study guide to logic texts more generally — you will find the latest version here: http://www.logicmatters.net/students/tyl/)

Mere lists are fairly uninteresting and unhelpful. So let’s be a bit more selective!

We should certainly distinguish books covering the elements of set theory – the beginnings that anyone really ought to know about – from those that take on advanced topics such as ‘large cardinals’, proofs using forcing, etc.

On the elements, two excellent standard ‘entry level’ treatments are

  • Herbert B. Enderton, The Elements of Set Theory (Academic Press,
    1997) is particularly clear in marking off the informal development
    of the theory of sets, cardinals, ordinals etc. (guided by the
    conception of sets as constructed in a cumulative hierarchy) and the
    formal axiomatization of ZFC. It is also particularly good and
    non-confusing about what is involved in (apparent) talk of classes
    which are too big to be sets – something that can mystify beginners.

  • Derek Goldrei, Classic Set Theory (Chapman & Hall/CRC 1996) is
    written by a staff tutor at the Open University in the UK and has the
    subtitle ‘For guided independent study’. It is as you might expect
    extremely clear, and is indeed very well-structured for independent

Still starting from scratch, and initially only half a notch up in sophistication, we find two more really nice books (also widely enough used to be considered “standard”, whatever exactly that means):

  • Karel Hrbacek and Thomas Jech, Introduction to Set Theory (Marcel
    Dekker, 3rd edition 1999). This goes a bit further than Enderton or
    Goldrei (more so in the 3rd edition than earlier ones). The final chapter gives a remarkably accessible glimpse
    ahead towards large cardinal axioms and independence proofs.

  • Yiannis Moschovakis, Notes on Set Theory (Springer, 2nd edition 2006). A slightly more individual path through the material than the previously books mentioned, again with glimpses ahead and again attractively written.

My next recommendation might come as a bit of surprise, as it is something of a ‘blast from the past’: but don’t ignore old classics: they can have a lot to teach us even if we have read the modern books:

  • Abraham Fraenkel, Yehoshua Bar-Hillel and Azriel Levy, Foundations of Set-Theory (North- Holland, 2nd edition 1973). This puts the development of our canonical ZFC set theory into some context, and also discusses alternative approaches. It really is attractively readable. I’m not an enthusiast for history for history’s sake: but it is very much worth knowing the stories that unfold here.

One intriguing feature of that last book is that it doesn’t at all emphasize the ‘cumulative hierarchy’ – the picture of the universe of sets as built up in a hierarchy of levels, each level containing all the sets at previous levels plus new ones (so the levels are cumulative). This picture – nowadays familiar to every beginner – comes to the foreground again in

  • Michael Potter, Set Theory and Its Philosophy (OUP, 2004). For mathematicians concerned with foundational issues this surely is – at some stage – a ‘must read’, a unique blend of mathematical exposition (mostly about the level of Enderton, with a few glimpses beyond) and extensive conceptual commentary. Potter is presenting not straight ZFC but a very attractive variant due to Dana Scott whose axioms more directly encapsulate the idea of the cumulative hierarchy of sets.

Turning now to advanced topics Two books that choose themselves as classics are

  • Kenneth Kunen, Set Theory (North Holland, 1980), particularly for independence proofs.

  • Thomas Jech, Set Theory: The Third Millenium Edition (Springer 2003), for everything.

And then there are some wonderful advanced books with narrower focus (like Bell’s on Set Theory: Boolean Valued Models and Independence Proofs). But this is already long enough and in fact, if you can cope with Jech’s bible, you’ll be able to find your own way around the copious literature!

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