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What are some fiction books about mathematicians?

It seems to me rather difficult for writers to create good books on this subject. Some years ago I thought there were no such books at all. There are many reasons: it is difficult to describe the process of discovery and describe it in the exciting way. The subject has narrow audience and not the way to make best-seller...

Comments on how authors try to avoid these problems are also welcome. The movie "A Beautiful Mind" is a (beautiful for me) example, where the story of mathematician was mixed with love and spy stories to make it interesting for general audience, well not so much preserved from mathematician's story, but nevertheless I am quite positive about it.

Here is a related MO question:

Movies about mathematics mathematicians

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I think 'other scientists' should be removed; or at least it should be narrowed down to 'scientists in closely related fields'. To collect books featuring, say, a microbiologist seems totally off-topic for MO to me. – user9072 Jul 8 '12 at 11:43
I'm going to take the liberty of removing "scientists" from the question since there are way too many books about scientists to ask for a list, and it makes more sense to ask about books featuring mathematicians on MO. – Douglas Zare Jul 8 '12 at 20:59
It is perhaps worth pointing out that while the movie "A Beautiful Mind" was fictionalized in many ways, the book it is based on is non-fiction. It is an (as far as I could tell) well-researched biography of the very real John Nash. – Noah Stein Jul 9 '12 at 14:38
Mathematicians should not do, and certainly not enjoy, anything other than mathematical research, lest they give themselves away as human beings with a variety of interests and not a 100% devotion to just the one. – Sridhar Ramesh Jul 10 '12 at 16:43
"Time spent reading is time not not used for doing research." @Harry: are you an intuitionist? – Margaret Friedland Jul 10 '12 at 17:52

65 Answers 65

The solitude of prime numbers of Paolo Giordano is a fiction book about a mathematician.

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A book I like a lot is "Whom the gods love, the story of Evariste Galois" by the physicist Leopold Infeld. It is mostly based on the known facts about his live. Infeld however fictionalized the missing parts. All in all it makes a very readable biography/novel of the originator of group theory and Galois theory written by this collaborator of Einstein and Max Born. Unfortunately the book is not available anymore, and very few university libraries have it.

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Nice read, but it was already mentioned in the answers here. – Margaret Friedland Feb 19 '13 at 0:27
Here:… – Dirk Feb 19 '13 at 8:01
They're a little pricey, but it doesn't seem that hard to find a second-hand copy on abebooks:… . – HJRW Feb 19 '13 at 10:34

I was a bit disappointed by Iain M. Banks' The Algebraist. Apart from the nice title, which is what made me buy the book, there is very little mathematical content in it.

(Well, I guess I am spoiled by Greg Egan.)

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1) Arno Schmidt's characters sometimes are occupied with mathematics, although mostly as a tool for geodesy or astronomy. A notable instance of pure mathematics occurs in the novelette Schwarze Spiegel (1951): The narrator, believing he is the last man on earth after a nuclear world war, kills time by "proving" Fermat's last theorem -- he even claims that the proof generalises to a proof of Euler's conjecture. Not surprisingly, the "proof", which consists of elementary manipulations, is flawed in several ways -- what it does give is a distorted version of Euclid's formula for Pythagorean triples. (It is not clear to me whether the narrator actually believes in his proof.)

2) A chaos theorist is a main protagonist of Michael Crichton's Jurassic Park (1990), and a popularised version of chaos theory serves as an idea in the plot. Less so in the movie Spielberg made of it.

3) One chapter of László Krasznahorkai's From North a Hill, from South a Lake, from East a Road, from West a River (2003) consists of a description of a fictitious work The infinite, a mistake, written by one (little less fictitious) "Sir Wilford Stanley Gilmore". It is said that the book's imprint mentions "a small town called Bures-sur-Yvette and the Gilmore-Grothendieck-Nelson-Institut des Hautes Etudes Scientifiques". I will not spoil any more except that it ends with a rant against Georg Cantor.

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Gillian Bradshaw's "The Sand Reckoner" is a wonderful story about Archimedes's return to Sicily from Egypt. His work as an engineer building super-catapults is featured more than any mathematical enterprise. Does that qualify?

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