a list compiled by Alex Kasman (College of Charleston)
|Note: This work of mathematical fiction is recommended by Alex for math majors, math grad students (and maybe even math professors).|
|Hired by the little-known "University of Northern Vermont", Professor Goldman does not seem to be living up to his promise as a great math researcher. Under pressure from his superiors, he claims to have proved a famous open problem. The unexpected consequences are the subject of this bawdy, academic farce written by a math professor at Concordia University in Montréal.
In fact, the main character of the novel is not Goldman but his old friend Aitch Singleton. It was Singleton who helped bring his famously brilliant colleague to UNV and it is he who is responsible for arranging the media circus that is expected when Goldman announces his result. The reader sees the world largely through Singleton's eyes: his hobby of bike riding in the mountains, his romance with one of the department's new hires, and his search for Goldman when he suddenly disappears.
Although it would be possible to read this book without any advanced knowledge of mathematics, the book does not shy away from talking about math. As one might expect given the fact that the author is a math professor, the math presented is accurately portrayed. The "traveling salesman problem" and the Millenium Problem of whether "P=NP" figure significantly, and a few other things get mentioned in some detail, including spherical coordinates, non-smooth analysis, and the geometry of affine cones in 3-dimensional space.
Some non-mathematical items of interest include bits of history (e.g. "Molly Pitcher", whose name to me is always synonymous with one of the rest stops on the New Jersey Turnpike), tales of bike riding through the mountains, and a fantastical bit in which a wild catamount takes up residence on Aitch's property, acting just like a giant house cat. Another interesting side-story involves "the twins", a Zionistic Jew and a Muslim supporter of the Palestinian cause, who are much more alike than different.
Sometimes, however, I found Stern's `asides' to be annoying. He seems to have wanted to include many "interesting" tidbits of information about the places he loves (NYC and that border area between Quebec and Vermont), and while this sometimes worked it also sometimes seemed as if he was bragging -- especially when he assures us that all of the students at Cooper Union (the author's alma mater) are absolutely brilliant.
Most of the novel takes the form of a broad, academic farce. The characters are parodies of people that professors and students will likely recognize: an administrator who styles herself after Elizabeth I and a math department chair who cannot say a sentence that could be broadcast on television without bleeps. Unlike the anonymous contributor above, the humor in this book did not always appeal to me. For instance, the dialogue of the foul mouthed department chair would surely keep an adolescent boy ROTFL, but I just found it annoying. But, in a wise move that helps to tie up the story nicely, Stern chooses to end the book on a more serious tone, bringing up some of Goldman's experiences in Vietnam.
In conclusion, Goldman's Theorem presents an "insiders view" of the life of a university math professor, with just enough humor and a sprinkling of interesting ideas to keep it entertaining.
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(Maintained by Alex Kasman, College of Charleston)