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The Goddess of Small Victories [La déesse des petites victoire] (2012)
Yannick Grannec

A beautifully written novel about the life of Kurt Gödel. In fact, it is not Kurt himself or his math, but his wife Adele who is the focus of attention.

The set up of the story is that Adele has refused to give Gödel's written works, his Nachlass, to the Institute for Advanced Studies. So, a young woman is given the task of visiting her at a nursing home and persuading her to change her mind. (The author of this novel claims to have made an effort to be as accurate to history as possible, but admits that this is a completely unfair misrepresentation, as Adele apparently happily donated her husband's writings to the IAS without hesitation.) We hear the story of their life together, including the romance, the danger, and the mathematics, as recounted to the young woman.

Some readers, I suppose, will learn about Gödel's amazing discoveries in mathematical logic from reading this novel. They could easily find a worse source! Unlike many other works of fiction which attempt to address incompleteness explain it poorly or inaccurately, but Grannec does relatively well. There are no real details, but as Gödel attempts to explain his work to his wife, the reader will learn as well. (The only mistake I noticed is when Kurt is describing Cantor's theory of infinite cardinals and says that his diagonal argument was used to show that the natural numbers and the rational numbers have the same cardinality. In fact, the famous diagonal argument was the one that shows that the real numbers have a different cardinality.)

For me, however, the interesting thing was to see the human side of Gödel, as he is seduced by and the older woman who worked as a dancer at a cabaret he occasionally visited and lived down the street from him when he was a grad student. Admittedly, this is mostly speculation on the part of the author, and perhaps someone who knows the true history better than I do would find contradictions in it (which would be somewhat appropriate, I suppose, considering the subject). For me, though, it is sufficiently believable that I feel I am getting to know this important historical figure.

Presumably, Grannec is using this story to make a statement not only about Kurt Gödel, not only about the other famous figures who populate the story (such as Einstein, Oppenheimer, Von Neumann, etc.), but about the nature of genius itself, about the role of a caretaker who enables that genius. One does not necessarily have to agree with her viewpoint, however, to appreciate this charmingly told work of historical fiction. I highly recommend it to those who enjoy reading fictional accounts of the lives of famous mathematicians.

Originally released in France (in French, obviously) as La Déesse des petites victoires in 2012, it was republished in English (with translation by Willard Wood) in 2014.

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Works Similar to The Goddess of Small Victories [La déesse des petites victoire]
According to my `secret formula', the following works of mathematical fiction are similar to this one:
  1. The Mathematician's Shiva by Stuart Rojstaczer
  2. Logicomix by Apostolos Doxiadis / Christos Papadimitriou
  3. A Beautiful Mind by Sylvia Nasar / Akiva Goldsman
  4. The Sand-Reckoner by Gillian Bradshaw
  5. Beyond the Limit: The Dream of Sofya Kovalevskaya by Joan Spicci
  6. Breaking the Code by Hugh Whitemore (playwright)
  7. Continuums by Robert Carr
  8. A Madman Dreams of Turing Machines by Janna Levin
  9. Pythagorean Crimes by Tefcros Michaelides
  10. The Five Hysterical Girls Theorem by Rinne Groff
Ratings for The Goddess of Small Victories [La déesse des petites victoire]:
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:
4/5 (1 votes)
Literary Quality:
5/5 (1 votes)

GenreHistorical Fiction,
MotifGenius, Anti-social Mathematicians, Academia, Real Mathematicians, Romance, Gödel,
TopicReal Mathematics, Logic/Set Theory,

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(Maintained by Alex Kasman, College of Charleston)