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A Certain Ambiguity

I recently read the 2007 novel A Certain Ambiguity, one of several mathematically-influenced gifts I received for Christmas. Written by Gaurav Suri and Hartosh Singh Bal, the novel explores the certainty of knowledge through the prisms of mathematics and religion. The story is told through from the perspective of a Stanford undergraduate, whose grandfather was a mathematician and who, it is discovered (spoiler alert!), was arrested in the early twentieth century under a blasphemy law in New Jersey for remarks he made against organized religion.

The grandson, Ravi Kapoor, delves into this mysterious part of his grandfather’s past while taking a mathematics class analogue of “Physics for Poets” – in other words, a math class aimed at non-mathematics students. The story jumps between classroom discussions and fictionalized historical records in an attempt to make clear the beauty of mathematics and give insight into the quest for truth (including, but not . . . → Read More: A Certain Ambiguity

The Housekeeper and the Professor

Some time ago, I heard about a book from Japan called The Housekeeper and the Professor, written by Yoko Ogawa in 2003 and translated by Stephen Snyder last year. As the title suggests, the book centers on the relationship between a housekeeper, her son, and a math professor. The main conceit of the book is that the Professor suffered an accident some years before that impaired his memory, so that his short term memory only lasts around 80 minutes. In other words, every day the housekeeper and her son come to visit the professor, it is as if they are meeting him for the first time. He copes by clipping small notes to his clothing, and in spite of his disability he still dabbles in mathematics.

One part Memento, one part A Beautiful Mind, the book was named a New York Times Book Review Editors’ Choice, and was popular . . . → Read More: The Housekeeper and the Professor

Math in Books: Logicomix

This past September, a very strange thing happened. The worlds of mathematics and comics combined to give birth to the graphic novel Logicomix, written by Apostolos Doxiadis and Christos Papadimitriou, and illustrated by Alecos Papadatos and Annie Di Donna. The book gives a slightly fictionalized account of Bertrand Russell‘s life, and uses this storyline as a gateway to explore the ideas in mathematical logic which were developed around the turn of the last century.

Combining mathematics and comics may sound like a recipe for disaster, but Logicomix has achieved a remarkable level of success. Not only has the critical response been exceedingly positive, but the book has also made the New York Times bestseller list. I’m assuming it was quite a popular gift item as well, because up through Christmas eve it was on back order at Amazon.com. It’s certainly rare for anything so fundamentally imbued with mathematics to . . . → Read More: Math in Books: Logicomix