a list compiled by Alex Kasman (College of Charleston)

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The Queen's Gambit (2020)
Scott Frank (writer&director) / Allan Scott (writer) / Walter Tevis (writer)

This popular TV mini-series about the personal trials of a chess prodigy is based on a novel. Interestingly, as I learned from Lauren Tubbs, a tiny bit of math was added for the screen adaptation:

Contributed by Lauren Tubbs

One of the things they changed from the book was that in the series they inserted a narrative about Beth's mother being mentally ill. At one point, they show her burning her doctoral thesis from Cornell, which had the title Monomial Representations and Symmetric Presentations. Later, the mother commits suicide. It is implied that her mother's mental illness causes Beth's drug abuse, and as an adult Beth fears that she too might go insane.

There are two other places where math is mentioned in the series - the head of the orphanage tells Beth's adoptive parents that she is very good at math, and later in high school she is labelled a "brain" for being the only one to know what a binomial is.

While the book makes no such connection between math and insanity and has no real mathematical content, it has some beautiful passages that remind me of studying math, such as:

(quoted from The Queen's Gambit)

She played mentally through game after game, learning new variations, seeing stylistic differences in offense and defense, biting her lip sometimes in excitement over a dazzling move or a subtlety of position, and at other times wearied by a sense of the hopeless depth of chess, of its endlessness, move after move, threat after threat, complication after complication. She had heard of the genetic code that could shape an eye or hand from passing proteins. Deoxyribonucleic acid. It contained the entire set of instructions for constructing a respiratory system and a digestive one, as well as the grip of an infant's hand. Chess was like that. The geometry of a position could be read and reread and not exhausted of possibility. You saw deeply into this layer of it, but there was another layer beyond that, and another.

I think it is very telling and rather sad that the screenwriters chose to insert the tired stereotype of the insane mathematician into this story that did not previously feature one. What made them think this was needed? Are audiences not yet tired of this trope? Did we need more works of fiction to reinforce the misconception that mathematical ability and mental illness are highly correlated? (Sorry for the rant....)

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Works Similar to The Queen's Gambit
According to my `secret formula', the following works of mathematical fiction are similar to this one:
  1. Belonging to Karovsky by Kathryn Schwille
  2. Domaine [Domain] by Patric Chiha (screenplay and director)
  3. Brazzaville Beach by William Boyd
  4. Miss Havilland by Gay Daly
  5. Too Much Happiness by Alice Munro
  6. Emilie: La Marquise Du Ch√Ętelet Defends Her Life Tonight by Lauren Gunderson
  7. Mrs. Einstein by Anna McGrail
  8. Continuums by Robert Carr
  9. The Mathematician's Shiva by Stuart Rojstaczer
  10. V2: A Novel of World War II by Robert Harris
Ratings for The Queen's Gambit:
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:
1/5 (1 votes)
Literary Quality:
4/5 (1 votes)

GenreHistorical Fiction,
MotifProdigies, Mental Illness, Female Mathematicians,
MediumTelevision Series or Episode,

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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)