a list compiled by Alex Kasman (College of Charleston)
|In this historical novel whose title is copied from one Archimedes' own works, the famous Greek mathematician is your typical math nerd, always
so wrapped up in his computations that he is barely aware of what is
going on around him. Since she is the wife of mathematical physicist
Robin Ball it is not too surprising that the author is able to make these characteristics of Archimedes come off believably, although perhaps a bit too cliched.
According to this story, if not for the help of his faithful slave and the
affections of an aristocratic woman, Archimedes would probably never be have
been able to achieve his tremendous success as the engineer of the
water-snail (a spiral which allows one to raise water with almost no
effort) and the powerful catapults he designed to save his city of
While reading The Sand-Reckoner I couldn't get over the feeling that Bradshaw -- a Classics graduate of Cambridge University -- was just throwing as much historical information at me as possible without turning the book into a textbook. I can only presume that the book is relatively accurate from a historical point of view, and if so it is certainly informative as well as interesting. Also, the romantic tensions (between Archimedes and the king's half-sister and between Archimedes' slave and his sister) sometimes got a bit too thick for me. Apart from these minor flaws, I really enjoyed reading the book very much.
Of course, I was reading the book with special attention to the mathematical aspects. From that point of view, the most interesting thing is the tremendous power of Archimedes' mathematical knowledge, the way it allows him to easily do things that others find difficult or impossible, even though it is completely elementary mathematics from our modern viewpoint. For instance, it is his ability to solve the Delian problem (of being able to determine the amount by which one should scale the dimensions of a solid object in order to scale its volume by a certain amount) which allows him to build powerful catapults. In the following scene, Archimedes argues before the Regent that he should be allowed to build a huge catapult for the city while the present engineer tries to protect his job:
Though the famous scene of Archimedes' death (see also The Death of Archimedes) is recalled in the endnotes of the book, it is not part of the narrative which ends while the famous geometer is still in his 20's. Since the story takes place only during a very short period of time, it is not really a biography of Archimedes in any sense. Instead, it focuses on one particular aspect: the interplay of the various interests and goals that Archimedes has during this brief period in his life. From defending his city against a Roman invasion to helping his family slave (a former Roman himself), from his love of pure mathematics to his love of the king's sister Delia,between his desire to help his dying father and his mixed feelings about the fame that his inventions bring him, Archimedes has a lot to think about.
I strongly recommend this book for someone who wants to read some good mathematical fiction without needing to know any advanced mathematics and to anyone who wants to see some early mathematical developments placed in a historical context.
Yes, there are not many specific mathematical theorems or definitions that are relevant here. Rather, the whole idea of what makes math beautiful to some people and useful to others is a running theme throughout the book. But from my point of view, that is one of the most significant things a work of mathematical fiction can do. I consider addressing the "philosophy" of math (singular in the US, I'm afraid) to be something that can and should give a work a high "mathematical content" rating.
|Buy this work of mathematical fiction and read reviews at amazon.com.|
|(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.)|
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)
(Maintained by Alex Kasman, College of Charleston)