a list compiled by Alex Kasman (College of Charleston)

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Hilbert's Hotel (1999)
Ian Stewart
(click on names to see more mathematical fiction by the same author)
Note: This work of mathematical fiction is recommended by Alex for math majors, math grad students (and maybe even math professors).

Another take on the idea (attributed to lectures by David Hilbert) that the bizarre properties of the countably infinite can best be presented through the analogy of a hotel. Here, Mr. and Mrs. Smith get lost: instead of the Hilton Hotel in Tenerife they wind up at Hilbert's Hotel in Tenner Reef. Since the hotel has as many rooms as there are positive integers, there is no trouble in making room for them even though all of the rooms are already taken...each occupant merely moves up to the next room leaving room number 1 empty for the Smiths. With Stewart being a real mathematician and all, he pushes things a bit farther than does Stanislaw Lem in his version. And so, by the end, not only do we see how there is room for an infinite busload of new guests, but we see how there isn't room (or that there is a paradox, depending on how you want to look at it) for all of the clubs that could meet in each room. (In particular, the "Absentees' Club" of people who don't belong to the club that meets in their room has trouble finding a place to meet.)

Published in the 19/26 December 1998 issue of New Scientist.

(And, if you like this idea, you should also check out Welcome to the Hotel Infinity, a story by Nancy Casey available on her Webpage.)

(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 Hilbert's Hotel
According to my `secret formula', the following works of mathematical fiction are similar to this one:
  1. Infinities by John Barrow
  2. Uncle Georg's Attic by Ben Schumacher
  3. The Cat in Numberland by Ivar Ekeland (author) / John O'Brien (illustrator)
  4. The Extraordinary Hotel or the Thousand and First Journey of Ion the Quiet by Naum Ya. Vilenkin
  5. The Universal Library [Die Universalbibliothek] by Kurd Lasswitz
  6. The Kissing Number by Ian Stewart
  7. Dude, can you count? by Christian Constanda
  8. Flatterland: like Flatland, only more so by Ian Stewart
  9. The Gnome and the Pearl of Wisdom: A Fable by Richard Willmott
  10. Art Thou Mathematics? by Charles Mobbs
Ratings for Hilbert's Hotel:
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:
5/5 (1 votes)
Literary Quality:
2/5 (1 votes)

GenreHumorous, Science Fiction, Didactic,
TopicInfinity, Logic/Set Theory,
MediumShort Stories,

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May 2016: I am experimenting with a new feature which will print a picture of the cover and a link to the page for a work of mathematical fiction when it is available. I hope you find this useful and convenient. In any case, please write to let me know if it is because I would be happy to either get rid of it or improve it if that would be better for you. Thanks! -Alex

(Maintained by Alex Kasman, College of Charleston)