a list compiled by Alex Kasman (College of Charleston)
|A couple vacationing in Italy meet a peasant boy with strong
mathematical abilities. The most mathematical portion of the text is
a discussion of a proof of the Pythagorean theorem which the boy
develops. (It is the one where you divide a square into two squares
and a rectangle by drawing a pair of lines perpendicular to the edges
that meet inside the square and divide it into two squares -- not
necessarily the same size -- and two rectangles of the same
dimensions.) Warning: This story has a very sad ending.
Reprinted in Fantasia Mathematica. A film version was made in Italian: Il piccolo Archimede. Sandro Caparrini says "It is very well done and quite faithful to Huxley's story."
An outstanding piece of literature - as a piece of fiction per se; as something that could help us understand (to some little extent, at least) the emotional and thought processes that drive geniuses.
This story, which I first read when I was about 14 years old was, along with E.T. Bell's "Men of Mathematics", what 'turned me on' to math in a big way. Though math is what I'd consider a 'main theme' in the story, there is not a great deal of *mathematics* within it except for a brief discussion of Pythagoras' Theorem. Anyone can read it and understand it, without math.
I liked this short story from the moment I read it.
One of the things that Huxley made clear is the profound relationship between music and mathematics.
Although I have for long been an admirer of Huxley, I only recently discovered (and appreciated) this story.
It is worthwhile pointing out that its theme — the untimely death of a potential genius child — is very close to the one of a short story by Anatole France, untitled "Le manuscrit d'un médecin de village", and published in "L'etui de nacre" (1892).
In his story, A. France has a country physician stumbling on a precocious and promising young boy born in a poor and uneducated peasant family. The child will die precociously of meningitis, and the doctor will later recognize his striking resemblance with a portrait of Ampere as a child.
It remains to find whether Huxley knew France's work (which would not diminish the literary quality of his work).
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(Maintained by Alex Kasman,
College of Charleston)