a list compiled by Alex Kasman (College of Charleston)

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Petersburg (1913)
Andrei Bely

In this modernist Russian novel, the revolutionary Nikolai Apollonovich Ableukhov is charged with the task of killing a Tsarist official ... his own father. In addition to mathematical terminology that appears in metaphors throughout the book, the fact that the father is portrayed with stereotypes usually employed for mathematicians takes on new meaning when one realizes that the author's father was the mathematician Nikolai Bugaev.

In an article posted on, Noah Giansiracusa and Anastasia Vasilyeva argue that this novel has more hidden mathematical references than was previously recognized:

Contributed by Noah Giansiracusa and Anastasia Vasilyeva

It is difficult, if not impossible, to name an important work of literature as heavily imbued with mathematics as Bely’s Petersburg. This singular aspect of the novel has not escaped the attention of historian nor literary scholar, but nonetheless a “close reading” from a mathematician’s eye seems not to have been undertaken previously. In doing so, we find an amazingly rich array of mathematical manifestations and allusions. Bely’s father is caricatured for his pedantry, absent-mindedness, and penchant for abstraction, yet the structure of the novel itself reflects the father’s universal faith in discontinuity. Poetic shadows of Cantor’s work on set theory, countability, and infinity appear in the novel and take on a Symbolist meaning in the context of the Moscow Mathematical School’s religiously inspired and mystically driven work on set theory and measure theory. We interpret Bely’s fantastical description of the streets in Petersburg in terms of spherical and projective geometry. We find striking similarities between Bely’s treatment of a spiritual visitor from the fourth dimension and Abbott’s famous Flatland, in addition to a couple passages exhibiting a slight foreshadow to Borges’ very mathematical short story Library of Babel.

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Works Similar to Petersburg
According to my `secret formula', the following works of mathematical fiction are similar to this one:
  1. Songs My Mother Never Taught Me by Selçuk Altun
  2. The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky
  3. The Genius by Nikolai Georgievich Garin-Mikhailovskii
  4. The Hyperboloid of Engineer Garin by Aleksei Nikolaevich Tolstoi
  5. The Kingdom of Ohio by Matthew Flaming
  6. The Lost Books of the Odyssey by Zachary Mason
  7. Arcadia by Iain Pears
  8. Life and Fate by Vasily Grossman
  9. Rosencrantz & Guildenstern are Dead by Tom Stoppard
  10. The Art Student's War by Brad Leithauser
Ratings for Petersburg:
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 (1 votes)
Literary Quality:
5/5 (1 votes)

GenreHistorical Fiction, Adventure/Espionage,

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(Maintained by Alex Kasman, College of Charleston)