a list compiled by Alex Kasman (College of Charleston)
|Note: This work of mathematical fiction is recommended by Alex for literati.|
|This book is a novelized account of the life of
Sofia Kovalevskaya (aka Sonia Kovalevskey and infinitely1 many alternative
spellings), famous today as the first woman to receive a Ph.D. in
mathematics. The book focuses only on the period from her youth until she
received the degree, and pays the greatest attention to the fascinating social aspects
of this true story. In particular, it focuses on the social
obstacles that could prevent a woman from being able to receive an
education, and Sofia's "false marriage" to a man who could arrange for her
to receive it. In addition to the interesting emotional drama surrounding
her marriage, we encounter a little bit of mathematics and a few famous
historical mathematicians who are impressed with Kovalevkaya's mathematical
The book seems to be well researched. (I do not know enough about this period in Russian history or the life of Kovalevskaya to know for certain, but the author claims to know Russian and to have translated some of Kovaleveskaya's personal documents, so I'll just assume that this is accurate. Its authenticity seems to be confirmed by the very positive review of the book written by Ann Hibner Koblitz, who is most certainly an expert! ) Spicci relies heavily on dialogue in writing this book, as if it were a play, and rarely describes scenery or provides significant information through narration.
Forgive me for including this, but I am often bothered by the misuse of the term "mathematician" and just want to use this opportunity to correct it. In the "about the author" appendix, Spicci describes herself as a mathematician. I'm afraid that her training as a mathematics teacher does not make her a mathematician (at least as I use the word). Mathematicians are the people who do mathematics, and not everyone who learns or teaches mathematics is a mathematician. Note, as an analogy, that being an English teacher does not make one an author. (She lists her membership in the Association for Women in Mathematics as evidence that she is a mathematician, but I could join that organization and it would not make me a woman.)
It is for this very reason that I think it is important to point out that Kovalevskaya is famous not only because she was a woman, but also because of her research which is significant in its own right. Kovalevskaya was not only a math student, but also a mathematician. One can still read today about "Kovalevsky's Top" which provided some initial foundational research into the modern theory of integrable systems.
Also see the film Hill on the Dark Side of the Moon, also about Kovalevskaya.
It may be relevant to some readers that Spicci is married to Fred Saberhagen of science-fiction fame, though this book should certainly cement her independent reputation as an author.
1 Algebraic geometer Frans Oort has registered a complaint regarding my use of the concept of "infinity" here. He writes "I feel that a mathematician should use the words `infinitely many' if you really mean what you write. (Many non-mathematicians abuse, but they do not know better.)" I apologize if this looked like a thoughtless use of "infinitely" as if it were a synonym for "a great many". It was intended to be a joke.
|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)