a list compiled by Alex Kasman (College of Charleston)

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Life of Pi (2001)
Yann Martel

I read this novel when it first came out both because it (deservedly) received a lot of praise and awards, and also because the title suggested there might be some connection to math. When I realized that the reference to math was brief and relatively insignificant, I decided not to include the book in this database. (You see, I try to focus only on those works which have significant mathematical content...though it is not always easy to make that distinction.)

However, the following message from Fr. Joseph Varghese Kreethara of the Department of Mathematics at Christ University in Bangalore has convinced me to reconsider:

Contributed by Fr Joseph Varghese Kureethara

The protagonist , Piscine Molitor Patel, changed his name to “Pi” after the fascinating π in Mathematics. Patel is named Piscine Molitor after a monumental Swimming Pool Complex in France by his uncle. Fed up by being addressed as “Pissing,” young Patel decided to change his name. At the beginning of his higher secondary classes, just before his name being called out by the teacher, he went to the blackboard and wrote his name as “Pi Patel” and added below it, “π=3.14.” He then drew a large circle and sliced it into two pieces with a diameter.

He repeated this stunt with every teacher that day. Because of his sheer courage and desire and determination to have a better name, from then he was called “Pi” instead of “Pissing.” On the rechristening, Patel recounted, “And so, in that Greek letter that looks like a shack with a corrugated tin roof, in that elusive, irrational number with which scientists try to understand the universe, I found refuge.” (pp 23-24)

Legendary Hollywood director Ang Lee adapted Life of Pi to a 3D movie with the same name in 2012 which won four awards from eleven nominations at the 85th Academy Awards. In the movie adaptation, young Patel kept writing on the blackboard, digit after digit, the expansion of π from his memory. Virtually, the entire school thronged into the classroom and the boy rose into instant stardom with the name “Pi” as he wanted.

Keith Robinson of Twisting Yarn Theatre Company adapted as a play in 2003.

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Works Similar to Life of Pi
According to my `secret formula', the following works of mathematical fiction are similar to this one:
  1. Zilkowski's Theorem by Karl Iagnemma
  2. The Arnold Proof by Jessica Francis Kane
  3. Orpheus Lost: A Novel by Janette Turner Hospital
  4. 21 Grams by Alejandro González Iñárritu
  5. Satisfactory Proof by Cynthia Morrison Phoel
  6. Kavita Through Glass by Emily Ishem Raboteau
  7. Belonging to Karovsky by Kathryn Schwille
  8. Long Division by Michael Redhill
  9. The Mathematician Repents by Estep Nagy
  10. 36 Arguments for the Existence of God by Rebecca Goldstein
Ratings for Life of Pi:
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 (2 votes)
Literary Quality:
5/5 (2 votes)


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(Maintained by Alex Kasman, College of Charleston)