a list compiled by Alex Kasman (College of Charleston)

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Numbers in the Dark (La notte dei numeri) (1990)
Italo Calvino
(click on names to see more mathematical fiction by the same author)

A boy looking around the huge office building where his mother works meets an old accountant who now works with computers but reveals to him an undiscovered arithmetic error made back in one of the company's early paper ledgers with startling consequences:

(quoted from Numbers in the Dark (La notte dei numeri))

... a stupid mistake of four hundred and ten lire.... And nobody realized, only I know about it, and you're the first person I've told: keep it to yourself and dont forget!

Over all these years, you know what that mistake ... has become? Billions! Billions! Half the city is built on these mistakes! Half the country!

This is one of many fascinating stories by the famous Italian author, Italo Calvino. Many of his stories have a slight mathematical flavor to them, but are not quite mathematical enough for me to add them to this database. Thanks to Robert Subiaga for suggesting that I add this one in which math plays a somewhat more explicit role.

Note: So far, I do not have a publication date listed for this story. Does anyone know when it first appeared?

Contributed by "William E. Emba"

The Italian original is "La notte dei numeri", literally "the night of the numbers", and Calvino dates it to 1958. I have no idea if it was published before 1990, though, the year of the first Italian collection (I racconti) which has it.

Oddly enough, this story is *not* in the Italian original from which pretty much the rest of the "Numbers in the Dark and other Stories" is taken from (Prima che tu dica "Pronto" = Before you say "Hello").

More information about this work can be found at
(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.)

Works Similar to Numbers in the Dark (La notte dei numeri)
According to my `secret formula', the following works of mathematical fiction are similar to this one:
  1. The Story of Yung Chang by Ernest Bramah (Ernest Bramah Smith)
  2. A Slight Miscalculation by Ben Bova
  3. John Jones's Dollar by Harry Stephen Keeler
  4. Arithmetic Town / Arithmetic by Todd McEwen
  5. Probability Pipeline by Rudy Rucker / Marc Laidlaw
  6. Quanto scommettiamo ("How much do you want to bet?") by Italo Calvino
  7. The Unwilling Professor by Arthur Porges
  8. The Discrete Charm of the Turing Machine by Greg Egan
  9. Fermat's Legacy by Ian Randal Strock
  10. Folk Music Festivals and Mathematics Conferences by Erik Talvila
Ratings for Numbers in the Dark (La notte dei numeri):
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:
1/5 (1 votes)
Literary Quality:
5/5 (1 votes)

TopicMathematical Finance,
MediumShort Stories,

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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)