Home > Resource of the Month Archive Detail

<< Prev 2/8/2015 Next >>

Mathematical Fiction (Part 4)

This last entry in my four-part review of mathematical literature involves the two classics by Clifton Fadiman. First, Fantasia Mathematica (originally issued in 1958) has always been my favorite, and the standard against which I measure all other newcomers. Its sequel, The Mathematical Magpie (originally issued in 1962) is also good, but quite as good. Luckily, both books are now back in print...but unfortunately have not been updated with new commentary.

To gain a taste of Fantasia Mathematica, consider its section headings and names of some of its stories:

  • Odd Numbers
    1. Pythagoras and the Psychoanalyst
    2. Mother and the Decimal Point
  • Imaginaries
    1. And he Built a Crooked House
    2. No-Sided Professor
    3. The Island of Five Colors
    4. A Subway Named M÷bius
    5. The Mathematical Voodoo
  • Fractions
    1. Euclid and the Bright Boy
    2. The Symbolic Logic of Murder
As to The Mathgematical Magpie, its section headings alone are delightful..consider them and some sample names of stories:
  • A Set of Imaginaries
    1. Paul Bunyan and the Conveyor Belt
    2. The Hermaneutical Doughnut
  • Comic Sections
    1. A, B, and C: The Human Element in Mathematics
    2. The Mathematician's Nightmare: The Vision of Professor Squarepunt
  • Irregular Figures
    1. Euclid and the Bright Boy
    2. The Symboliv Logic of Murder
  • Simple Harmonic Motions
  • Dividends and Remainders (two songs)
  • A Positive Remainder (poems, cartoons, etc.)
Not everyone views these classics in the same positive light. For example, one reviewer wrote: "the stories ...seem naive and dated. Many of the stories have little literary merit of their own, and the mathematical topics tend to be M÷bius bands and four dimensional cubes, topics that now seem somewhat passÚ."

I do not know about you and your students, but I also must be passÚ. That is, I still enjoy reading and exploring M÷bius bands and four dimensional cubes....and recommend these classics by Clifton fadiman highly!