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Coffee, Love and Matrix Algebra (2014)
Gary Ernest Davis

This novel follows a year in the life of Jeffrey Albacete, a mathematics professor at a Rhode Island University, who is best known as the author of a textbook on matrix algebra.

Although I think it would be safe to call this an "academic farce", along the lines of The Visiting Professor or Goldman's Theorem, it is not a broad farce. An example of its humor involves the conflict between two approaches to teaching linear algebra: the approach that focuses on matrices and the approach that focuses on vector spaces. Albacete is a proud proponent of the matrix approach. His pride relies in part on the support that he receives from a "matrix algebra" organization, and Albacete does not recognize (but the reader should appreciate) the irony in the fact that he was a founding member of that organization and its former president.

Just as the humor is subtle, so is the plot. Essentially, we see this old-fashioned and self-absorbed man loosen up so as to allow some romance into his life and to modify the approach to his textbook by bringing in more applications and use of technology. Aside from the sensible but unsurprising lifestyle changes that help Albacete get more out of life, there are no big ideas presented or discussed in this book, no espionage or intrigue, no murders or alien invasions. In fact, in most ways it seems to me like a relatively normal year in the life of a relatively normal math professor.

Since this is a work of fiction, there is no reason to assume that the ideas espoused by its characters necessarily reflect the opinions of the author, but it seems likely to me that Davis is using this as an opportunity to advertise some things he feels strongly about. Yes, as the title promises, coffee is certainly a major topic of discussion, but so is Mathematica and its Computable Document Format.

This novel was originally released electronically as a serial on the author's "Republic of Math" Website and seems to have been popular in that form before being released as a printed novel. So, it clearly appeals to some readers, many of whom have praised it as a realistic portrayal of academia. However, precisely because it is a realistic portrayal of academic life, I think that will limit its appeal. If a reader either wants to learn more about how conferences are funded and how collaborators work together on a new edition of a textbook, this could be informative. Alternatively, if a reader is someone who loves academic life and can't get enough of it just by living it, this is a way to vicariously enjoy more of it. For many other readers, I'm afraid, this book may appear too dry and too slow.

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Works Similar to Coffee, Love and Matrix Algebra
According to my `secret formula', the following works of mathematical fiction are similar to this one:
  1. Goldman's Theorem by R.J. Stern
  2. The Visiting Professor by Robert Littell
  3. Dude, can you count? by Christian Constanda
  4. A Doubter's Almanac by Ethan Canin
  5. Gifted by Marc Webb (director) / Tom Flynn (writer)
  6. Final Exam by Robert Dawson
  7. Question 3 by Martin Sandahl (Director and Writer)
  8. After Math by Denise Grover Swank
  9. Orpheus Lost: A Novel by Janette Turner Hospital
  10. The Wild Numbers by Philibert Schogt
Ratings for Coffee, Love and Matrix Algebra:
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:
2/5 (1 votes)

MotifAnti-social Mathematicians, Academia, Romance, Math Education,

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(Maintained by Alex Kasman, College of Charleston)