a list compiled by Alex Kasman (College of Charleston)

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Pythagoras's Darkest Hour (2007)
Colin Adams
(click on names to see more mathematical fiction by the same author)

A humorous short story from the author of Mathematically Bent which tells the true story of the discovery of the Pythagorean Theorem. Well, actually, perhaps it isn't exactly true...but it is so good, I wish it were!

In this story, we see Pythagoras moping in a bar after a theorem he presented to the Assembly is discovered to be false. (He had claimed that the radius, circumference and area of a circle would satisfy x2+y2=z2...but they do not.) With his slave's help, however, he discovers a valid theorem incorporating the same formula. (Yes, that's has something to do with triangles.) Now if only Pythagoras would listen to the slave's concern about the square root of two,...

This two page masterpiece originally appeared in the April 2007 issue of Math Horizons. This special "April Fool's" issue has many other items that may be of interest to visitors to this site, even though I am not listing them separately as "mathematical fiction". For instance, a mathematical parody of the National Enquirer is quite funny, and there are somewhat dubious letters between Newton and Leibniz that were "recently discovered". (And my favorite, the quadratic formula as it would be presented by the IRS!)

Pythagoras's Darkest Hour was reprinted in the 2009 collection of stories by Adams: Riot at the Calc Exam....

More information about this work can be found at
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Works Similar to Pythagoras's Darkest Hour
According to my `secret formula', the following works of mathematical fiction are similar to this one:
  1. Mathematically Bent by Colin Adams
  2. Midtown Pythagoras by Michael Brodsky
  3. Harvey Plotter and the Circle of Irrationality by Nathan Carter / Dan Kalman
  4. Uncle Georg's Attic by Ben Schumacher
  5. The Gangs of New Math by Robert W. Vallin
  6. The Legend of Howard Thrush by Alex Kasman
  7. The Jester and the Mathematician by Alan R. Gordon
  8. Fermat's Last Tango by Joanne Sydney Lessner / Joshua Rosenblum
  9. I of Newton by Joe Haldeman
  10. Quicksilver: The Baroque Cycle Volume 1 by Neal Stephenson
Ratings for Pythagoras's Darkest Hour:
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:
4.5/5 (2 votes)
Literary Quality:
3.5/5 (2 votes)

GenreHistorical Fiction, Humorous,
MotifProving Theorems, Real Mathematicians,
TopicGeometry/Topology/Trigonometry, Algebra/Arithmetic/Number Theory, Real Mathematics,
MediumShort Stories,

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(Maintained by Alex Kasman, College of Charleston)