MATHEMATICAL FICTION:

a list compiled by Alex Kasman (College of Charleston)

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The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel (2017)
Amy Sherman-Palladino / Daniel Palladino
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The main plot of this show -- which concerns the transformation of Midge Maisel from a Jewish housewife in the 1950s into a successful and edgy standup comic -- has nothing to do with mathematics. So, although it of the greatest importance to the show, I won't be writing here about her separation from her husband, the way she leaves her children with her parents when she goes out to comedy clubs, how she gets to know Lenny Bruce, etc. Instead, I will focus here on the only aspect of the show related to the purpose of this website.

Midge's father, Abe Weissman (played by Tony Shaloub), is both a math professor at Columbia University and a researcher at Bell Labs.

He is portrayed as being quite a weird and difficult man, very picky and demanding, and perhaps some of this is supposed to be connected to the fact that he is a mathematician. But, honestly, all of the characters on this show are extremely quirky in their own ways.

The second episode of the show includes a very nice bit of mathematical fiction in which linear algebra is used as a metaphor for how Abe is feeling about the breakup of his daughter's marriage. Professor Weissman shows the class a 2x3 matrix and ask them why it only has rank one. (A student correctly answers in terms of its echelon form.) Abe then asks about its nullity, but before anyone gets to answer that he goes into a bizarre rant about the two rows being linearly dependent, forever. One of them does not go off claiming it "needs its own vector space!"

That wonderful scene in the second episode gave me hope that the show would continue to have interesting (even if not frequent) mathematical moments that I could recommend as good examples of mathematical fiction. Unfortunately, the only other mathematical scenes worth reporting by the end of Season Two were in an episode in which we see what a terrible project team leader and professor Abe is. At Bell Labs, he is unable to get his team to make any progress on their (unnamed) research project. And, in a differential equations class at Columbia he asks the students about the Fourier transform of a saw-tooth wave function, but then becomes extremely abusive, insults the students and demands that that they all drop his class immediately. He later boasts that nothing can be done to punish him since he has tenure (though his son reports to him the rumor that he is going to be let go from Bell Labs).

I am grateful to my colleague Brenton Lemesurier for bringing this show to my attention.

More information about this work can be found at en.wikipedia.org.
(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 Marvelous Mrs. Maisel
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. A Very Peculiar Practice by Andrew Davies
  3. NUMB3RS by Nick Falacci / Cheryl Heuton
  4. The Capacity for Infinite Happiness by Alexis von Konigslow
  5. The Limit by Freya Smith / Jack Williams
  6. The Almond Tree by Michelle Cohen Corasanti
  7. Quicksilver: The Baroque Cycle Volume 1 by Neal Stephenson
  8. Continuums by Robert Carr
  9. Legacy of Light by Karen Zacarías
  10. The Weight of Numbers by Simon Ings
Ratings for The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel:
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:
3/5 (1 votes)
..

Categories:
GenreHistorical Fiction, Humorous,
MotifAcademia,
Topic
MediumTelevision Series or Episode,

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(Maintained by Alex Kasman, College of Charleston)