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Pythagoras' Revenge: A Mathematical Mystery (2009)
Arturo Sangalli

Freelance science journalist Sangalli has written a book which presents some historical information about Pythagoras and his beliefs in the form of a novel of the detail driven conspiracy theory adventure genre that is so popular these days. The plot involves a large number of characters (including an academic mathematician going through a midlife crisis, his sister who works as a computer security consultant, and a world famous mathematician) who get caught up in a neo-Pythagorean cult's attempt to discover the modern reincarnation of their hero.

You essentially have to accept the notion of reincarnation and fate (because of all of the unlikely coincidences) to get caught up in the plot, which was difficult for a skeptic like me. But, if the purpose of the plot was merely to get me to absorb the facts about history, philosophy and math that the author was embedding in the novel, then it was successful. Mathematical topics discussed include the notion of proof itself, Platonic solids, what it means to be ``random'', and (of course) the Pythagorean Theorem. Yet, the main point seems to be to contrast Pythagoras' notion that ``all is number'' with more modern discoveries of Gödel (whose name is not mentioned in the book), Turing and Chaitin which indicate the limitations of mathematics. (Personally, I do not see these ideas as being as much in conflict as the book suggests.)

At times, the author seems to lose his literary voice and collapses into journalistic writing. For instance, when Chapter 8 begins with a present tense description of one of Pythagoras' contemporaries waking up from a nightmare, I expected the chapter to continue as a bit of historical fiction that would reveal events through the eyes of someone from the past. However, it soon devolves into saying things like ``How the Pythagoreans...discovered the existence of incommensurable lengths has been the subject of much speculation."

I agree with Doron Zeilberger's assessment on the back cover that this was a ``fun read''. As compared with books like A Certain Ambiguity and Pythagorean Crimes, this one is rather light on mathematics, despite some mathematical details contained in the appendices at the end. Rather than feeling enlightened about math, I feel instead as if I've learned more about Pythagoras as a philosopher and religious figure from this entertaining book.

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Works Similar to Pythagoras' Revenge: A Mathematical Mystery
According to my `secret formula', the following works of mathematical fiction are similar to this one:
  1. Pythagorean Crimes by Tefcros Michaelides
  2. The Kingdom of Ohio by Matthew Flaming
  3. Gospel Truths by J.G. Sandom
  4. The Thousand by Kevin Guilfoile
  5. All Cry Chaos by Leonard Rosen
  6. A Certain Ambiguity: A Mathematical Novel by Gaurav Suri / Hartosh Singh Bal
  7. The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown
  8. The Facts of Death by Raymond Benson
  9. The Square Root of Pythagoras by Paul Di Filippo / Rudy Rucker
  10. Ultima lezione a Gottinga [Last lecture at Göttingen] by Davide Osenda
Ratings for Pythagoras' Revenge: A Mathematical Mystery:
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:
3/5 (1 votes)
Literary Quality:
3/5 (1 votes)

GenreHistorical Fiction, Didactic, Adventure/Espionage,
MotifGenius, Prodigies, Academia, Proving Theorems, Real Mathematicians, Religion,
TopicGeometry/Topology/Trigonometry, Real Mathematics, Chaos/Fractals, Logic/Set Theory,

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(Maintained by Alex Kasman, College of Charleston)