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The Mathematician (1967)
Will Manson

Despite the title, there is almost no math in this pulpy spy story. Its Cold War nationalism and sexism date it somewhat, but it is fine as light entertainment, with danger, romance, and a "twist ending".

The plot centers on the role of mathematicians in the space race:

(quoted from The Mathematician)

Operation Luna had been given top priority by our country. The President had let it be known that we must be the first to put a man on the moon. No money was to be spared, no talent overlooked. Nothing must prevent us from reaching our goal and no one must be before us. The competition was equally anxious to be first. The means at their disposal were vast; their character or rather lack of character gave them certain advantages over us in the race. Mathematicians, it seems, were the key. Physicists, chemists, metallurgists, rocket men, all of these and many more others were essential but most vital to success were the mathematicians. Immense computers did the figuring but someone had to tell the computer what to figure. Hundreds of men were busy at their formulae all over the the world. There were grave problems to be answered and the answers were coming with agonizing slowness.

The book's protagonist is an "ordinary guy" who happens to look like Gibson, a famous American mathematician. He is asked by the CIA to stand in as the man's double in Princeton as he is courted by Polish spies, but unexpectedly he (and the beautiful female spy he fell in love with at first sight) are taken prisoner by ruthless thugs and are headed for Moscow.

Unfortunately, almost nothing about math is mentioned throughout the book. This is explained on page 30 where the double, being trained by Gibson, says

(quoted from The Mathematician)

...the only thing I didn't get into was mathematics. Gibson could not do in a day or two what my teachers had been unable to accomplish in years. It would have been hopeless in any event and we agreed that it would be far safer for me to stay entirely away from the subject.

Spoiler Alert: In the end, it turns out that Gibson himself is the many enemy spy, and so I'm tagging this with "evil mathematicians", though it should be noted that Dr. Szebo, another mathematician who dies before the story even begins, is a sort of posthumous hero.

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Works Similar to The Mathematician
According to my `secret formula', the following works of mathematical fiction are similar to this one:
  1. Torn Curtain by Alfred Hitchcock (Director)
  2. The 39 Steps by Alfred Hitchcock (director)
  3. Deception by Eric Altman
  4. The Einstein Enigma by José Rodrigues Dos Santos
  5. The Thousand by Kevin Guilfoile
  6. Ghost Dancer by John Case
  7. Gödel Numbers by J.W. Swanson
  8. 7 Steps to Midnight by Richard Matheson
  9. Sebastian by David Greene (director)
  10. The Facts of Death by Raymond Benson
Ratings for The Mathematician:
RatingsHave you seen/read this work of mathematical fiction? Then click here to enter your own votes on its mathematical content and literary quality or send me comments to post on this Webpage.
Mathematical Content:
1/5 (1 votes)
Literary Quality:
2/5 (1 votes)

MotifEvil mathematicians,
TopicMathematical Physics,

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(Maintained by Alex Kasman, College of Charleston)