a list compiled by Alex Kasman (College of Charleston)
|A math graduate student becomes an intern for a math professor famous for his `theory of inevitability' but ends up also helping his wife (an even more famous author of romance novels) write a book using a mathematical algorithm after her ghost writer quits while the professor rekindles his romance with an old flame.
This is a witty academic farce, but unlike some of the others appearing in this database (e.g. Goldman's Theorem and After Math ), the author really gets the culture of mathematics wrong. The dialogue and scenarios seem more like what one might expect in a philosophy department. Aside from the author's near ignorance of the subject he has chosen to parody (though he does seem obsessed with `plus or minus' in the formula for the root of a quadratic polynomial) the book is okay. There are even a couple of decent mathematical puns.
`The Theory of Inevitability' supposedly is a mathematical result which shows that small causes can (or maybe will) result in big consequences in a person's life. It seems to me that this is an obvious fact, not needing a mathematical proof. (The author relates the chance meeting that resulted in his own marriage in the `about the author' blurb...and I can say that I would never have met my wife had she not borrowed a certain issue of `The Boston Comic News' from a friend.) But, I can see how this might have grown out of something the author heard about real math research. Beginning with Poincare's work on the n-body problem, further developed in Rene Thom's ``Catastrophe Theory'' and becoming fully developed in ``Chaos Theory'', there are mathematical results which have to do with what we call `sensitive dependence on initial conditions'. However, the particularly interesting part of that is that sensitive dependence arises even in situations where intuition might have expected small causes to have only small effects -- situations described by simple and continuous mathematical formulas.
Thanks to Vijay Fafat for bringing this book to my attention.
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(Maintained by Alex Kasman,
College of Charleston)