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The Parrot's Theorem (2000)
Denis Guedj
(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 math majors, math grad students (and maybe even math professors).

This is an ambitious novel, a magical fantasy about a talking parrot bought at a flea market in France who, with the help of the personal library of a reclusive mathematical genius, teaches some children (and the reader) about 2000 years of the history of mathematics. Though it was written originally written, I believe, in French (under the name Le theoreme du perroquet: roman), an English version has recently been published.

The author, a professor of the history of science, specializes in the use of fiction to develop scientific literacy. This novel is certainly a masterpiece of this genre. The clever plot device of having a non-mathematical bibliophile forced to look carefully through a collection of mathematics books may succeed in interesting a general audience in the history of mathematics. (I certainly learned some fascinating bits of mathematical history myself!) Note also that people seem to really like this author's non-fiction.

You can read a review of the novel by Simon Singh here. Here are some comments from visitors to this site:

Contributed by `Hannelie'

"I am nearly finished with the book and I am amazed at how exciting mathematics can be! The prose is gripping and the book is simply unputdownable. By the way the history covered in this book is nearer to 5000 years than 2000."

Contributed by Vassilis Kyrtatas

"Some very good historical chapters (e.g. those conveying the intellectual atmosphere and the status of mathematics in ancient Alexandria and medieval Baghdad), but on the whole the plot is too implausible, with a rather loose thread."

Contributed by Kumar Biswas

"Picked this up while waiting in Stuttgart airport and it's spent most of its time in the 'little room' where our family reads since then. I read it regularly to my children (9 and 13) who are home schooled and it provokes many questions to which they enjoy discovering the answers. Certainly achieves its goal of being readable and exciting curiosity."

Contributed by Alejandro Meija

"Just great! is better than a novel, is better than a history of math book! is a perfect combination!"

Contributed by anonymous visitor

"Really poor translation to czech language, weak story...nice try of popularisation of mathematics."

Contributed by Sara Medea

"the sophie's world of maths! enjoyed the neatly encapsulated history of maths, i found out a lot (though i don't always understand what i read) but what i really loved is the camaraderie among the characters :) i want a surrogate family like that too!"

Contributed by Petar Bavelja

As a teacher of Mathematics (Secondary UK) I loved the book.So many ideas and stories to make the subject come alive to school-age students. Sure the plot was a bit thin and implausible but if you look deep enough that can be said for most works of fiction. The trick is to play the 'Alice' card - make it magical enough and no-one seems to mind. I borrowed the book from a seventeen year old 'further maths' student of mine; I'm now going to try to convince the rest of the group they should read it. Did I miss something: Short Stocky Guy, Tall Stock Guy - what's the reference

Contributed by Amanda

An enjoyable read, a good option for those who take pleasure in reading.

Contributed by Marissa Stern

The Parrot's Theorem is a fun and highly informational read. The characters are well-rounded and plot is engaging. The work is well written and is a good demonstration of how Math in Fiction can be a useful tool for education.

Contributed by Anonymous

Born in 1961 , I now know why I love numbers. In 1961 the 100.000th decimal of ? was calculated. What this has to do with the parrot, you need to read the book.

Remark : Can anyone help me find a dutch translation (to buy)?

Contributed by Anonymous

i hate this book!!!!!!!!!! it's so boring it's not even funny. why even bother to right a math novel?? usless if you ask me!!!!

Contributed by Alex

To the previous anonymous contributor:

I really enjoyed reading The Parrot's Theorem, but have no problem with the idea that you didn't. (I didn't like "The Da Vinci Code" and lots of other people did!) We're each entitled to our own tastes -- but not our own spellings. Watch out for that, eh?

Contributed by Rebekah

I agree with the person who compared it to "Sophie's World" - it was a very enjoyable way to learn some history of math with a fairly engaging plot.

Contributed by Athina

This is the book that got me hooked on math fiction. It is indeed math history incorporated in the plot of an adventure novel, but the draw is less literary and more scientific. The author has gotten better since then. I recommend his 2005 book "Zéro, ou les Cinq vies d'Aemer", a novel about the invention of the number Zero through the lives of five women, in five different epochs, all in Mesopotamia (or modern Iraq). It has already been translated in Greek , but I couldn't find an english translation online .

Contributed by Bekah

This provided a great way to view some of the important historical developments of mathematics.

Contributed by Anonymous

Mediocre book - boring, but not as boring as some. It was bearable to read, but I would often put it down for something else. I'd rather do math problems than read about people exploring math.

Contributed by Anonymous

I had to read this for math class (I mean what math teacher makes their students read a book???) and was pleasantly surprised. Personally, I don't like being forced to read a certain book, although I love reading, but this book was very well written and had a gripping plot. I might even use it as a study guide in the future!

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(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 The Parrot's Theorem
According to my `secret formula', the following works of mathematical fiction are similar to this one:
  1. Pythagorean Crimes by Tefcros Michaelides
  2. Zéro, ou les Cinq vies d'Aemer by Denis Guedj
  3. Fermat's Last Tango by Joanne Sydney Lessner / Joshua Rosenblum
  4. A Certain Ambiguity: A Mathematical Novel by Gaurav Suri / Hartosh Singh Bal
  5. Uncle Petros and Goldbach's Conjecture by Apostolos Doxiadis
  6. Turing (A Novel About Computation) by Christos Papadimitriou
  7. The Oxford Murders by Guillermo Martinez
  8. Conned Again, Watson! Cautionary Tales of Logic, Math and Probability by Colin Bruce
  9. The Number Devil (Der Zahlenteufel) by Hans Magnus Enzensberger
  10. The Fairytale of the Completely Symmetrical Butterfly by Dietmar Dath
Ratings for The Parrot's Theorem:
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:
4.16/5 (32 votes)
Literary Quality:
3.81/5 (35 votes)

GenreHistorical Fiction, Mystery, Fantasy, Didactic,
MotifReal Mathematicians,
TopicAlgebra/Arithmetic/Number Theory, Analysis/Calculus/Differential, Real Mathematics,

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Great News for 1 April 2016: The long awaited cover of the comic book adaptation of The Adventures of Topology Man has been released. See here for details.

(Maintained by Alex Kasman, College of Charleston)