a list compiled by Alex Kasman (College of Charleston)

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In the Light of What We Know (2014)
Zia Haider Rahman
Note: This work of mathematical fiction is recommended by Alex for literati.

The plot of this novel involves the financial industry around the time of the 2008 crash, Afghanistan after the American invasion, and the romance between a very clever man who grew up poor in Bangladesh and a very reserved woman who grew up rich in England. These are subjects well known to the author, who was born in Bangladesh, went to Oxford, and worked both as a banker and as an international rights lawyer. However, anyone reading this very slow moving novel primarily for the plot will give up long before reaching the twists at the end. Instead, this book should really be read and appreciated for its insights about the way people think, their prejudices and self-interest, their loves and motivations, how they make decisions and how they live with the decisions they made, and even (self-referentially) whether they should write fiction like this.

Of course, there is also mathematics here, else I would not be listing it here in this database. The book has two narrators -- or, more accurately, a narrator (who shows up unannounced at the home of an old friend with a tale both twisting and twisted to tell) and a meta-narrator (the old friend who has attempted to capture the tale in the form of a book). Both men have degrees in mathematics and have worked in finance, and so mathematics comes up quite frequently in their conversations. Math never becomes integral to the plot of the book, but as I've already explained, this book is not really about its plot, but about thought processes. Mathematics is useful there as an example of one way that people can think and as a contrast for other modes of thought. It arises in explanations of the derivatives market, in anecdotes and in metaphors (most notably references to Gödel's Theorems and what they may tell us about the nature of truth). [Physics also shows up a bit via the meta-narrator's father, who is a physics professor at Princeton.]

When I find a book "hard to put down", it is usually because I enjoy the company of the characters or because I want to "find out what happens". Neither of those was true in this case, however. In this book I was fascinated by the little details that left me feeling that I had gained a greater understanding of how people's minds work (including my own). The final twists to the plot, which pushed a previously mundane story into the level of international intrigue and personal violence, were actually disappointing to me because despite the heightened drama, they seemed less insightful than the earlier discussion of why a person might repeatedly look in the refrigerator. I should also mention, since it seems to have been an important point to the author, that I was also left better educated about the events leading up to the creation of the nation of Bangladesh and why so many people have not heard about it before.

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Works Similar to In the Light of What We Know
According to my `secret formula', the following works of mathematical fiction are similar to this one:
  1. Flea Circus: A Brief Bestiary of Grief by Mandy Keifetz
  2. I Married You for Happiness by Lily Tuck
  3. The Mathematics of Nina Gluckstein by Esther Vilar
  4. Diary of a Bad Year by John Maxwell Coetzee
  5. The Embalmer's Book of Recipes by Ann Lingard
  6. Machines Like Me by Ian McEwan
  7. A Universe of Sufficient Size by Miriam Sved
  8. Casebook by Mona Simpson
  9. Book of Knut: a novel by Knut Knudson by Halvor Aakhus
  10. The City of Devi by Manil Suri
Ratings for In the Light of What We Know:
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:
2/5 (1 votes)
Literary Quality:
5/5 (1 votes)

TopicMathematical Finance, Logic/Set Theory,

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Exciting News: The 1,600th entry was recently added to this database of mathematical fiction! Also, for those of you interested in non-fictional math books let me (shamelessly) plug the recent release of the second edition of my soliton theory textbook.

(Maintained by Alex Kasman, College of Charleston)