MATHEMATICAL FICTION:

a list compiled by Alex Kasman (College of Charleston)

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Logicomix (2008)
Apostolos Doxiadis / Christos Papadimitriou
(click on names to see more mathematical fiction by the same author)
Highly Rated!
Note: This work of mathematical fiction is recommended by Alex for young adults and math majors, math grad students (and maybe even math professors).

A graphic novel on the history of mathematical logic by the authors of Uncle Petros and Goldbach's Conjecture and Turing. In an interview (available online here) Papadimitriou says:

Contributed by Christos Papadimitriou

It is really the story of two friends, Apostolos and myself, as they try to understand the lives and times and ideas of the remarkable people who developed mathematical logic – the science of rigorous reasoning – and to come to grips with the strange fact that so many of them died insane. It is also the story of the twentieth century, of its triumph and tragedy, of its conflicts and contradictions - intellectual and otherwise - of the ideas that defined it and propelled it to its strange destiny. And (in a twist that mimics the ways in which modern logic and computers gain their power by self-reference and introspection) it is the story of the book itself.

It is primarily told from the point of view of Bertrand Russell, and so is almost a biography of this important 20th century mathematician/philosopher. In fact, I did learn a lot about Russell from reading it. However, to enhance the story, the authors have him interact directly with the people whose work is related to his including Frege, Cantor, Hilbert and Gödel, even though these meetings are not historical. Moreover, interwoven with the story are scenes featuring the authors and artists as the discuss what form the book should take. (For instance, somewhere in the middle Papadimitriou suggests the title.)

The book is stylishly illustrated, the writing is clear and interesting, and the math (such as it is) is essentially correct. So far so good. However, the authors have very different ideas of the main point. Whereas Doxiadis sees it as a tragedy about the relationship between logic and madness, Papadimitriou sees it as the foundation for the wonderful world of computer science. Perhaps the self-referential aspects of the authors discussing the book in the book and the comparison of these two viewpoints could itself be a selling point. However, whereas Papadimitriou (at least his representation in the book) seems to have a mild dislike for Doxiadis' viewpoint, I personally find it very offensive. Not only do I think his notion that there is a link between insanity and math research (which I complained about in UPGC and I find no more appealing now that he focuses it only on logicians) is misguided, I disagree with his implication that this story indicates the ultimate failure of logic. (As regards the former, it is quite easy to create the impression that a link between madness and mathematics exists when the author is able to select which characters to discuss, which moments in their lives to look at and what to emphasize. For instance, we are told about relatives of Russell who had mental disorders and that he briefly had suicidal thoughts as a child. If one does not employ logic, this might seem like evidence. But, if logic is utilized, and in this context one ought to, you realize that Doxiadis did not list whether non-mathematical characters might have had the same "links" and probably did not even check to see. I remain skeptical, and worried that this stereotype is harmful to the discipline. And, as regards the latter, in my opinion the fact that logic is powerful enough to recognize its own limitations is a triumph, not a failure.)

I do recommend this comic book to people who want to learn about the foundations of mathematics, but would urge them not to get too carried away with Doxiadis' viewpoint. Just as his brief biography on the back cover of Logicomix exaggerates the truth when it claims that his UPGC was the first novel of mathematical fiction (a claim which can obviously be disproved using this database), his tragic view of the history of mathematics should be considered skeptically.

Contributed by Margaret Metzger

Logicomix was published in Greece in October 2008 and, immediately upon release, took the top slot on all the major Greek best-seller lists. Logicomix will come out in the U.K. in September '09 and the U.S. in October. We have launched a comprehensive website, www.logicomix.com, which has everything you could want to know about Logicomix: character bios, foreign rights sales, a behind-the-scenes gallery of images, and an engaging and informative 20 minute documentary on the book, called Logicomix: One Page at a Time (also available on youtube.com). On behalf of the Logicomix team, I invite you to take a look!

A very positive review of Logicomix appeared in The Guardian in 2009, and the November 2010 issue of the AMS Notices contained a review with a lot of useful information and apparently sharing my dislike of the "insanity" hypothesis that the graphic novel promotes.

Contributed by Sandro Caparrini

The formula of analysis stated by Mittag-Leffler (on p. 145, I think), does not make sense at all. This is somewhat surprising in a text about mathematics, written by mathematicians.

Yes, Sandro, I see what you mean. It is on page 143 in my copy. His "word balloon" shows an equation where the left side appears to be the nth partial derivative with respect to x_i of F(y) and the right side is one over h factorial times an infinite sum of antiderivatives of the nth power of F. Since the left side depends on i and y and the right side does not, I do not see how this could make sense. But, it is difficult to imagine that the authors were satisfied just writing down random mathematical notation here. Does anyone know of a reasonable formula that is not too far from this one that might have been miscopied by the letterer? Or, maybe the authors just do not have a high opinion of Gösta Mittag-Leffler!

Contributed by Richard Morris

One of my top five graphic novels, and a good introduction to logic.

Buy this work of mathematical fiction and read reviews at amazon.com. Amazon.com logo
(Note: This is just one work of mathematical fiction from the list. To see the entire list or to see more works of mathematical fiction, return to the Homepage.)

Works Similar to Logicomix
According to my `secret formula', the following works of mathematical fiction are similar to this one:
  1. Turing (A Novel About Computation) by Christos Papadimitriou
  2. Evariste and Heloise by Marco Abate
  3. Uncle Petros and Goldbach's Conjecture by Apostolos Doxiadis
  4. A Disappearing Number by Simon McBurney
  5. Pythagorean Crimes by Tefcros Michaelides
  6. Incompleteness by Apostolos Doxiadis
  7. Disciple of the Masses by Xujun Eberlein
  8. Continuums by Robert Carr
  9. A Madman Dreams of Turing Machines by Janna Levin
  10. Shakespeare Predicted it All by Dietmar Dath
Ratings for Logicomix:
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 (3 votes)
..
Literary Quality:
4/5 (3 votes)
..

Categories:
GenreHistorical Fiction,
MotifInsanity, Real Mathematicians, Romance, Gödel,
TopicInfinity, Real Mathematics, Logic/Set Theory,
MediumComic Book,

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(Maintained by Alex Kasman, College of Charleston)