All of the mathematics required beyond basic calculus is developed “from scratch.” Moreover, the book generally alternates between “theory” and “applications”: one or two chapters on a particular set of purely mathematical concepts are followed by one or two chapters on algorithms and applications; the mathematics provides the theoretical underpinnings for the applications, while the applications both motivate and illustrate the mathematics. Of course, this dichotomy between theory and applications is not perfectly maintained: the chapters that focus mainly on applications include the development of some of the mathematics that is specific to a particular application, and very occasionally, some of the chapters that focus mainly on mathematics include a discussion of related algorithmic ideas as well.

The mathematical material covered includes the basics of number theory (including unique factorization, congruences, the distribution of primes, and quadratic reciprocity) and of abstract algebra (including groups, rings, fields, and vector spaces). It also includes an introduction to discrete probability theory—this material is needed to properly treat the topics of probabilistic algorithms and cryptographic applications. The treatment of all these topics is more or less standard, except that the text only deals with commutative structures (i.e., abelian groups and commutative rings with unity) — this is all that is really needed for the purposes of this text, and the theory of these structures is much simpler and more transparent than that of more general, non-commutative structures.