a list compiled by Alex Kasman (College of Charleston)

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The Gold-Bug (1843)
Edgar Allan Poe
(click on names to see more mathematical fiction by the same author)

Not only does this very famous Poe story contain a (very little) bit of mathematics in the form of a probabilistic approach to cryptography and a geometric description of the treasure hunt on the ground (as pointed out by William E. Emba), it is especially notable for the fact that it takes place here in Charleston : )

The entire story is available on-line...follow the link above or below.

Summer MacDermott has written to let me know about another vaguely mathematical passage in a work by Poe. Although I do not think it is mathematical enough to justify having its own entry on this website, it is interesting and so I will include it here for your interest:

Contributed by Summer MacDermott

In Edgar Allan Poe's "A Descent into the Maelström", the protagonist relates his experiences on a ship sinking into a powerful whirlpool. As the ship is descending down the whirlpool, the narrator recalls,

(quoted from The Gold-Bug)

I made, also, three important observations. The first was, that as a general rule, the larger the bodies were, the more rapid their descent; --the second, that, between two masses of equal extent, the one spherical, and the other of any other shape, the superiority in speed of descent was with the sphere; --the third, that, between two masses of equal size, the one cylindrical, and the other of any other shape, the cylinder was absorbed the more slowly.

Since my escape, I have had several conversations on this subject with an old school-master of the district; and it was from him that I learned the use of the words 'cylinder' and 'sphere.' He explained to me --although I have forgotten the explanation --how what I observed was, in fact, the natural consequence of the forms of the floating fragments --and showed me how it happened that a cylinder, swimming in a vortex, offered more resistance to its suction, and was drawn in with greater difficulty than an equally bulky body, of any form whatever.*

*See Archimedes, "De Incidentibus in Fluido." --lib.2.

The narrator proceeds to lash himself to a cylindrical water cask, and the whirlpool abates before swallowing him. The starred note is Poe's and it is fake, as Archimedes did not study the mechanics of moving bodies in water. Nevertheless, the questions is still interesting: which geometric body will descend fastest into a fluid vortex? Georgios H. Vatistas attempted to answer the question here.

Contributed by Vijay Fafat

A couple of other early-age short stories, with a similar use of cryptography, may be of interest.

1. Miles Breuer - A Problem in Communication - Astounding Stories of Super-Science September 1930

2. Arthur Conan Doyle - The Adventure of the Dancing Men - The Strand Magazine, UK, December 1903

These may not have sufficient higher-math content to justify separate entries but are both good reads in this genre.

More information about this work can be found at
(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 Gold-Bug
According to my `secret formula', the following works of mathematical fiction are similar to this one:
  1. The Balloon Hoax by Edgar Allan Poe
  2. The Purloined Letter by Edgar Allan Poe
  3. The Power of Words by Edgar Allan Poe
  4. The Franklin's Tale (in The Canterbury Tales) by Geoffrey Chaucer
  5. Kavanagh by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
  6. Mortal Immortal by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley
  7. Micromegas by François Marie Arouet de Voltaire
  8. The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky
  9. Miss Havilland by Gay Daly
  10. Gulliver's Travels by Jonathan Swift
Ratings for The Gold-Bug:
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:
1.33/5 (3 votes)
Literary Quality:
4/5 (4 votes)

TopicComputers/Cryptography, Geometry/Topology/Trigonometry,
MediumShort Stories, Available Free Online,

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Exciting News: The total number of works of mathematical fiction listed in this database recently reached a milestone. The 1,500th entry is The Man of Forty Crowns by Voltaire. Thanks to Vijay Fafat for writing the summary of that work (and so many others). I am also grateful to everyone who has contributed to this website. Heck, I'm grateful to everyone who visited the site. Thank you!

(Maintained by Alex Kasman, College of Charleston)