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Consortium for Mathematics and its Applications

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December 1, 2023
Written on . Posted in Fun with Math.

19 Math-Inspired Books for Exploring the Beauty of Numbers

Mathematics and literature may seem like an unlikely pairing, but there's a fascinating overlap between these seemingly distinct worlds. Math-inspired novels are a unique genre that marries the beauty of storytelling with the elegance of mathematical concepts. 

In this blog post, we'll explore a curated list of math-inspired  fiction and non-fiction books that delve into the world of numbers, equations, and mathematical mysteries.

1. "A Beautiful Mind" by Sylvia Nasar

Sylvia Nasar's biography of the brilliant mathematician, John Nash, offers an in-depth look at Nash's life and his struggles with mental illness. This poignant story provides insights into Nash's groundbreaking work in game theory, making it a compelling read for those interested in both mathematics and the human condition.

2. "A Certain Ambiguity: A Mathematical Novel" by Gaurav Suri and Hartosh Singh Bal

This novel combines a love story with mathematical exploration. It follows the journey of a young man who, while trying to understand his feelings for a woman, also grapples with mathematical concepts, including the philosophical aspects of mathematics.

3. "A Mathematician's Apology" by G.H. Hardy

G.H. Hardy's classic work is a personal reflection on the aesthetics and motivations behind pure mathematics. Though more of an essay than a novel, it provides a deep and thoughtful exploration of the mind of a mathematician, offering insights into the creative process and the intrinsic value of mathematics.

4. "Arcadia" by Tom Stoppard

While "Arcadia" is primarily a play, its intricate plot intertwines mathematics, chaos theory, and literature. The play unfolds in two timelines, exploring the interactions of brilliant minds across centuries and delving into themes of determinism and randomness.

5. "Anathem" by Neal Stephenson

Set in a distant world, "Anathem" explores the life of intellectuals living in isolated monastic communities, diving into advanced mathematical and philosophical concepts. Neal Stephenson weaves a complex tale that combines speculative fiction with deep explorations of mathematics and the nature of reality.

6. "Flatland" by Edwin A. Abbott

"Flatland" is a classic novella that takes place in a two-dimensional world inhabited by geometric shapes. Written in 1884, Edwin A. Abbott uses this imaginative setting to explore the concept of dimensions, societal hierarchy, and perception, making it a thought-provoking read for anyone interested in geometry and spatial mathematics.

7. "Fermat's Enigma: The Epic Quest to Solve the World's Greatest Mathematical Problem" by Simon Singh

Simon Singh's non-fiction book "Fermat's Enigma" is a gripping exploration of Fermat's Last Theorem, a mathematical puzzle that remained unsolved for centuries. Through the stories of mathematicians who sought to crack this enigma, Singh weaves a captivating narrative that brings the world of number theory to life.

8. "Proof" by David Auburn

"Proof" is a Pulitzer Prize-winning play by David Auburn, which explores the life of a young woman who may have inherited her father's mathematical genius, along with his mental illness. The play delves into questions of mathematical proof, trust, and family relationships, making it a must-read for those interested in the intersection of mathematics and human emotions.

9. "The Eight" by Katherine Neville

Combining historical fiction with a modern-day thriller, "The Eight" revolves around a mysterious chess set and its connection to a mathematical code. The novel spans different time periods and locations, involving characters in a quest that ties together chess, mathematics, and intrigue.

10. "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" by Stieg Larsson

This bestselling thriller incorporates elements of advanced mathematics and code-breaking. The protagonist, Lisbeth Salander, is a brilliant hacker, and her mathematical prowess plays a significant role in solving the mysteries within the story.

11. "The Housekeeper and the Professor" by Yoko Ogawa

This heartwarming novel by Yoko Ogawa introduces readers to a brilliant mathematician whose memory only lasts for 80 minutes. The professor, the housekeeper, and her son form an unlikely but beautiful bond through numbers, sharing their love for mathematics and finding solace in each other's company. The book touches on the beauty of mathematical connections and human relationships.

12. "The Indian Clerk" by David Leavitt

This historical novel is based on the life of the Indian mathematician Srinivasa Ramanujan and his collaboration with the British mathematician G.H. Hardy. The story provides a glimpse into the world of academia during the early 20th Century and the profound mathematical contributions of Ramanujan.

13. "The Last Theorem" by Arthur C. Clarke and Frederik Pohl

Co-written by two science fiction giants, this novel is based on an idea by the legendary mathematician Srinivasa Ramanujan. The story explores the quest to prove Fermat's Last Theorem, blending mathematical intrigue with elements of speculative fiction.

14. "The Man Who Loved Only Numbers: The Story of Paul Erdős and the Search for Mathematical Truth" by Paul Hoffman

This biography provides insights into the life of the prolific and eccentric mathematician Paul Erdős. While not a fictional novel, it reads like a compelling narrative, offering a glimpse into Erdős' unique personality and his relentless pursuit of mathematical truth.

15. "The Math Book" by Clifford A. Pickover

Clifford A. Pickover's "The Math Book" is a unique compilation of 250 milestone discoveries in the history of mathematics. This visually stunning book is an excellent resource for those interested in exploring various mathematical concepts, from ancient to modern times, while enjoying colorful illustrations and engaging explanations.

16. "The Oxford Murders" by Guillermo Martínez

For fans of mystery novels, "The Oxford Murders" by Guillermo Martínez is a thrilling journey into the world of mathematical logic and mathematical mysteries. Set in the hallowed halls of Oxford University, the story combines elements of suspense, murder, and mathematical puzzles, making it a page-turner for math enthusiasts.

17. "The Simpsons and Their Mathematical Secrets" by Simon Singh

Another non-fiction entry, this book explores the surprising presence of advanced mathematics in the popular animated TV show "The Simpsons." Simon Singh uncovers the mathematical backgrounds of the show's writers and the numerous mathematical references hidden throughout the series.

18. "The Solitude of Prime Numbers" by Paolo Giordano

Paolo Giordano's novel revolves around the lives of two characters who share a peculiar connection with prime numbers. As they navigate through their individual struggles, the narrative weaves in mathematical themes, exploring the beauty and isolation associated with prime numbers.

19. "Uncle Petros and Goldbach's Conjecture" by Apostolos Doxiadis

This novel follows the story of Uncle Petros, a mathematician who becomes obsessed with proving Goldbach's Conjecture, a famous unsolved problem in number theory. The book combines elements of mystery and family drama, making it a compelling exploration of mathematical passion.

Math-inspired books offer a unique and captivating perspective on the world of numbers and equations. These books bridge the gap between mathematics and literature, making complex mathematical concepts accessible to a wider audience while weaving intriguing narratives. 

Whether you're a math enthusiast or simply enjoy a good story, these books have something to offer, inviting readers to explore the beauty of math from a different angle. So, grab a copy of one of these books and embark on a mathematical adventure through the pages of literature.

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The Consortium for Mathematics and Its Applications is an award-winning non-profit organization whose mission is to improve mathematics education for students of all ages. Since 1980, COMAP has worked with teachers, students, and business people to create learning environments where mathematics is used to investigate and model real issues in our world.