After reading three books about finite element method, with two of them covering also finite volume and grid generation, I found myself lost when I have to discuss these topics with library developers scientists that use an advanced mathematical language (for example, they usually encompass the discussion with Sobolev and Hilbert spaces).

So, my question is this: What reference books, beyond the fundamental and standard finite element books, are recommended ?

  • $\begingroup$ The goal of such "discussions" target the complete understanding of the numerical code implemented and the scientific papers related with it. $\endgroup$ – Pedro R. Jul 18 '14 at 18:47
  • $\begingroup$ If I'm not mistaken, what you're looking for is a good book which explains the mathematics behind the finite element method (please correct me if I'm mistaken). Most FEM books provide such background information in them. Thus, this question is suspiciously similar to one previously asked here on scicomp. I'm not sure what you mean by "beyond the fundamental and standard FE books"... Could you clarify? $\endgroup$ – Paul Jul 18 '14 at 19:47
  • $\begingroup$ If you say that most FEM books provide such background I have to say that I was unlucky with those that I read. I don't know what is a suspicious question!!!! I am here searching for knowledge from others and nothing else more. Beyond fundamentals means rigorous mathematical description of course. $\endgroup$ – Pedro R. Jul 18 '14 at 21:05
  • $\begingroup$ My apologies. I didn't mean to imply that your question is suspicious, but rather that it is nearly identical to one asked previously. On the stack exchange network, we highly discourage duplicating questions. However, since your question seems to focus on the functional analysis side of FEM, I think it is sufficiently distinct. $\endgroup$ – Paul Jul 18 '14 at 21:11

I have to disagree with Paul: Functional analysis is a beautiful, elegant topic with an enormous range of applications (but de gustibus... :)).

But in any case, you don't need to know a lot of (pure) functional analysis to understand finite element methods: Normed vector spaces, (strong) convergence, completeness, inner products and their induced norms, orthogonality, dual spaces and adjoint operators. Except for the last two, these topics should be already familiar if you already know some multivariate analysis and linear algebra (modulo some technicalities). They are all treated in (the first four chapters of) Kreyszig's Introductory Functional Analysis which was already recommended (and which I found to be a very pleasant read).

But much more than the behavior of abstract vector spaces, you need to understand the behavior of Lebesgue and Sobolev spaces, as well as the theory of (weak solutions) of partial differential equations. (From your previous question, I would say that this is precisely what you have problems with.) These topics (which some would classify as (applied) functional analysis) are usually summarized, but not treated in detail, in what I (as a mathematician) would call the fundamental and standard finite element books:

These are listed roughly in order of mathematical abstractness, and should be enough to be on the same page as the scientists you're talking to. If you want more detail, you need to look at books on the theory of partial differential equations; the standard references would be (again in order of abstractness)

In fact, Chapter 5 and 6, as well as Appendix D and E, of Evans' book should cover most of the theoretical background you need for the (mathematical) theory of finite element methods.


For a little more mathematical rigor, I like some sections in "Theoretical Numerical Analysis: A Functional Analysis Framework" by Atkinson and Han.

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    $\begingroup$ I read one chapter from this book and it seems adequate for my purposes. Thanks. $\endgroup$ – Pedro R. Jul 19 '14 at 16:13

Assuming that you already have a background in partial differential equations and basic numerical analysis, functional analysis is helpful to understand FEM theory. From personal experience, it's a tedious topic and is a bit difficult to really master autodidactically.

Having said this, I have gained some insights from books like

Understanding and Implementing the Finite Element Method

Introductory Functional Analysis

Applied Calculus of Variations for Engineers

Applied Functional Analysis and Variational Methods in Engineering

Each book helped me in some way, shape, or form to understand the mathematics behind the finite element method. However, none of them really provided a "perfect" or "complete" understanding to me. This is in no way an exhaustive list of "good references" and I do not think there is any "canonical books" on the subject either. But at least, these are some books that helped me and I hope they can help you as well.

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    $\begingroup$ My favorite would be "Introductory Functional Analysis" by Kreyzsig. But would say that "Applied Functional Analysis and Variational Methods in Engineering" is a more readable book and cover some topics, like Sobolev spaces, that are not presents in some texts. $\endgroup$ – nicoguaro Jul 19 '14 at 2:27

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