a list compiled by Alex Kasman (College of Charleston)
|The blurb on the cover describes anti-hero Jack Wilson as a "brilliant mathematician" and also a "diabolical madman" in this thriller based on the popular conspiracy theory claiming that Nikola Tesla is responsible for the Tunguska explosion. Although his supposed mathematical ability is frequently mentioned (perhaps to convince the reader that Wilson is smart and has the ability to figure out how to make use of Tesla's ideas to destroy civilization), the book is very short on mathematics or mathematical details.
There are many themes in the book more significant than mathematics. For instance, that Wilson is a Native American and that his allies are Moslem terrorists are both quite significant. However, this website is devoted to mathematics in fiction and so I will focus my attention on a small detail.
At one point, just after he is released from prison, Wilson receives a FedEx package:
Wilson is supposed to have a PhD in engineering. (He is an inventor whose work was considered so dangerous that his ideas were classified by the government, setting up the conflict that is the basis for the plot.) Not all engineers learn advanced mathematics, but I do know of a few whose work in engineering leads them to sufficiently theoretical problems that they could be published in mathematics journals. So, this seems reasonable to me.
In fact, Documenta Mathematica is a real mathematics journal, founded by the German Mathematical Society in 1996 in response to the rising prices of scientific journals. (Its articles are available for free online and the print copies are produced at the lowest possible price.) Although most mathematics journals are produced monthly, it seems that the print version of DM is produced annually, so there would be no "winter issue". Similarly, since there are so many articles in it, the title of Wilson's article would not be on the "title page" but in the table of contents. The title of the article, though meaningless as far as I can tell, has a ring of authentic mathematics to it and does sound like the title of a research article.
One real mathematician (and author) who did research while in prison is Chandler Davis, who included this acknowledgement on a paper he wrote while imprisoned in the United States for his refusal to cooperate with the House Unamerican Activities Committee":
A helpful (anonymous) reader has written in with more information about mathematicians working in prisons.
Note added October 2021: Vijay Fafat has pointed out that André Weil did math research while in prison during World War II and is quoted at MacTutor as having written "My mathematics work is proceeding beyond my wildest hopes, and I am even a bit worried - if it's only in prison that I work so well, will I have to arrange to spend two or three months locked up every year?".
|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.)|
(Maintained by Alex Kasman, College of Charleston)