a list compiled by Alex Kasman (College of Charleston)

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Uncle Petros and Goldbach's Conjecture (1992)
Apostolos Doxiadis
(click on names to see more mathematical fiction by the same author)
Highly Rated!
Note: This work of mathematical fiction is recommended by Alex for math majors, math grad students (and maybe even math professors) and literati.

This novel, recently (2000) translated from Greek, follows the attempts of fictional mathematician Petros Papachristos to prove Goldbach's Conjecture (that every even number greater than two is the sum of two primes) and the frustrations of his nephew to whom he presents the problem as an elementary test of his mathematical skills. Real mathematicians (Hardy, Ramanujan, Turing, Littlewood, Caratheodory and Godel) appear in fictionalized form in this story as well. We have on the word of Sir Michael Atiyah that "[This book] is brilliantly written -- a mathematical detective story of great charm-and it certainly succeeds in capturing much of the spirit of mathematical research." (What more could you ask for?)

Contributed by Vassilis Kyrtatas

"This novel offers an excellent dramatic account of the search for truth and obsession with mathematical certainty, which mathematics itself (!) tells us is unattainable. The fictional Uncle Petros finds out from Alan Turing that `truth is not always provable'."

Contributed by Gordon Pace, IMAG

"In my opinion, this is a grave misrepresentation of mathematicians. There is also a serious mathematical mistake underlying one of the main `events' in the book: Uncle Petros wants to talk to Godel to know whether it is decidable whether a particular problem ([Goldbach Conjecture], in his case) is provable or not. Unfortunately, as should be clear to any mathematically inclined person, if we can prove that [Goldbach] is undecidable, then it must be true (since, if it is false, a counterexample exists, which is a valid counterproof). Hence we can never prove that such a proposition is undecidable. Literarywise, I was not so impressed, either. Overall I found the book to be a quick, but unsatisfying read."

Contributed by David Shay

"I enjoyed very much reading this book, in its translation into Hebrew."

Contributed by ecano

sòlo quiero decir que el autor es un poco idealista al creer que la" verdad y la belleza" sòlo puden ser alcanzados por los matemàticos.Tanto un artista: pintor, escritor, mùsico, etc pueden alcanzar grandes estados de èxtasis en sus investigaciones. La novela la considero exelente.

Contributed by Anonymous

I enjoyed the quote where Uncle Petros says a latin phrase that means 'Mathematicians are born, not made.' I think it's something like "Never forget it: Mathematicus est nasci, pas fit."

Contributed by Ethan Silver

This book is a fantastic read. It is quite interesting as a fictional book, although there are a few dry parts, but overall, excellent. It was involved enough in mathematics that the mathematician would appreciate it, but not so much that a lay person could not read it. I found both the mathematical and literal aspects both inspiring and affected my own path through life somewhat. I would recommend this book to any mathematician or otherwise for its beautifully written account of one man's valiant life-long struggle to solve one of the greatest mysteries in mathematics.

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Works Similar to Uncle Petros and Goldbach's Conjecture
According to my `secret formula', the following works of mathematical fiction are similar to this one:
  1. Continuums by Robert Carr
  2. Pythagorean Crimes by Tefcros Michaelides
  3. A Doubter's Almanac by Ethan Canin
  4. The Wild Numbers by Philibert Schogt
  5. No One You Know by Michelle Richmond
  6. A Certain Ambiguity: A Mathematical Novel by Gaurav Suri / Hartosh Singh Bal
  7. The Parrot's Theorem by Denis Guedj
  8. The Exception by Alex Kasman
  9. Goldman's Theorem by R.J. Stern
  10. A Madman Dreams of Turing Machines by Janna Levin
Ratings for Uncle Petros and Goldbach's Conjecture:
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:
4.25/5 (48 votes)
Literary Quality:
4.27/5 (49 votes)

GenreHistorical Fiction,
MotifMental Illness, Academia, Proving Theorems, Real Mathematicians, Romance, Math Education, Kurt Gödel, Alan Turing,
TopicAlgebra/Arithmetic/Number Theory, 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)