a list compiled by Alex Kasman (College of Charleston)

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The Devil and Simon Flagg (1954)
Arthur Porges
(click on names to see more mathematical fiction by the same author)
Highly Rated!
Note: This work of mathematical fiction is recommended by Alex for math majors, math grad students (and maybe even math professors).

Mathematicians know the feeling of trying to prove something you really believe to be true, but has never been proven. There is pleasure in doing this, like solving a puzzle, but also frustration and painful obsession. No other story conveys this as clearly as this fantasy in which the devil is challenged to prove (or disprove) Fermat's last theorem in 24 hours. Among the more interesting things in the story are the way the Devil becomes interested in mathematics although he had no interest before, and the way Flagg's wife reacts when the Devil and Flagg begin talking about math. (Spouses of mathematicians everywhere must feel the same way.)

This short story appears in Fantasia Mathematica. Though I enjoy this story, and its discussion of some of the details, I think I prefer the really short alternative version that was published as The Devil a Mathematician Would Be.

Contributed by Steve Bush

I have typed in the story here [Sorry, link is broken. -Alex 2009].

I had searched a few years ago for an online copy, not finding it, decided to type it in. Last night, I discovered there actually are several copies now found by google search. Anyway, there is mine. One of my all time favorite stories!

Contributed by Marc wigan

This little story is very powerful in illustrating concisely and clearly the culture of curiosity driven research, it moves from instrumental to engaged in an amusing manner, and the **sigh** from Flaggs' wife as the culture takes hold is a delight. If you want to explain to someone about the characteristics of curisoty driven mathematical exploration it woudl be hard to do it in a more engaging - and convincing- manner. A classic.

Contributed by Robert W. Franson

I first encountered this as a teenager, and always think of it fondly.

A film version entitled "Matematik I Chert" (which translates as "Mathematician and Devil") was made in Russian, directed by S. Raitburg and released by CentrNauchFilm in 1972. (See screenshot below.)

Contributed by Bikas Kanti Sarkar

One of the best stories I have ever read

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Works Similar to The Devil and Simon Flagg
According to my `secret formula', the following works of mathematical fiction are similar to this one:
  1. I of Newton by Joe Haldeman
  2. Prost, der Faust-Tragödie (-n)ter Teil [Prost: the (-n)th Part of the Faust Tragedy] by Kurd Lasswitz
  3. The Devil a Mathematician Would Be by A.J. Lohwater
  4. Naturally by Fredric Brown
  5. Fermat's Best Theorem by Janet Kagan
  6. Cantor’s Dragon by Craig DeLancy
  7. The Devil You Don't by Keith Laumer
  8. When the Devil Took the Professor [Wie der Teufel den Professor holte] by Kurd Lasswitz
  9. Fermat's Last Tango by Joanne Sydney Lessner / Joshua Rosenblum
  10. Damned Souls and Statistics by Robert Dawson
Ratings for The Devil and Simon Flagg:
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:
4.34/5 (12 votes)
Literary Quality:
4.17/5 (12 votes)

GenreHumorous, Fantasy,
MotifProving Theorems,
TopicAlgebra/Arithmetic/Number Theory,
MediumShort Stories, Films,

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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)