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The First Circle (1968)
Alexandr Solzhenitsyn

Contributed by "William E. Emba"

Solzhenitsyn had been a math major until Hitler and Stalin came up with a different career path for him, and TFC is based on his own brief stay in the luxury side of the Gulag, which he claims saved his life and mind.

This novel is set in the first circle of the Gulag, where the scientist and engineer prisoners were engaged in forced military/scientific research. The main character and some minor ones are mathematicians. Mathematical comments and musings show up lightly scattered throughout the novel.

The title is an allusion to Dante's Inferno, which had Hell arranged in seven circles. The outermost (first) circle was reserved for the better folks who were denied Heaven, but who got off lightly and were not tortured.

Contributed by Tim

Talks about Eulers equations and derivatives. Guys are working on technical stuff, speech clippers and limiters on a secure phone for Stalin. Mostly just a great novel. As a practicing engineer chapter 17 and a few chapters preceeding it are really quite similar to what I have seen in industry here. Impossible schedules, that workers know are impossible. The difference is management reports to Stalin, with life and death control over the people in charge.

This book (and Cancer Ward, another great novel by Solzhenitsyn) gives a fantastic look at life in the Soviet Union through characters with great depth and passion even though they are under extreme hardship. A truly fantastic book that I am reading over again. Solzhenitsyn is a great writer.

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Works Similar to The First Circle
According to my `secret formula', the following works of mathematical fiction are similar to this one:
  1. Life and Fate by Vasily Grossman
  2. The Trachtenberg Speed System by Buzz Mauro
  3. Infinity by Patricia Broderick
  4. The Body Outside the Kremlin by James L. May
  5. Lemma 1 by Helga Königsdorf
  6. Krise [Crisis] by Helga Königsdorf
  7. The Boy Who Escaped Paradise by J.M. Lee (author) / Chi-Young Kim (translator)
  8. The Sabre Squadron by Simon Raven
  9. Universe of Two by Stephen P. Kiernan
  10. A Map for the Missing by Belinda Huijuan Tang
Ratings for The First Circle:
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:
1.6/5 (5 votes)
Literary Quality:
4.6/5 (5 votes)

GenreHistorical Fiction,

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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)