BOOK REVIEWS FROM A CURIOUS MIND: I read a lot. Books and the data/stories contained within them are my oldest friends. My wife suggested in her wisdom that I should write up short summaries/observations on the books I've been reading, since people might be interested, so I did. 5+ years running. Comments are welcome.
Having just finished a dense and
rigorous philosophical treatise, I needed something which would spark my
imagination and my intellect.I found
this collection of math-based and math-referencing stories, most of them under
10 pages long, and proceeded to escape into science fiction.
Clifton Fadiman, the editor of this
collection, was inspired to collect this anthology after reading a few short
stories that used mathematics as either a plot point or as a crucial element of
the characterization.In 1958 the genre
of science fiction was still obscure and marginalized.Because of this, many of these stories were
published once in pulp magazines and then forgotten.Some of them are from the very masters of the
genre, such as Heinlein, Clarke or Bradbury, while others are from writers that
have faded into obscurity.
I remember picking this book up
maybe 20 years ago and not finding it interesting enough to finish.I guess in the intervening decades I have
either picked up more mathematical knowledge or I have grown more adult and
capable of enjoying a story purely for the intellectual curiosity of it.Most of these short stories are great fun,
and many illustrate mathematical points which are still explored by today’s
mathematicians.Topics range from
topology, to extra-dimensional geometry, to geometric proofs.There is even a back section which contains
mathematical poems, limericks, and other such things.
My favorite story of the bunch
involves a mathematician making a bet with the Devil, all dependent on the
Devil answering properly whether Fermat’s Last Theorem is true or not.This conjecture was unsolved for centuries
until a lone-wolf mathematician provided a suitable proof.I have no idea what the math used was, but
then again, neither does 99.999% of the population!At the end of the tale, the Devil sits
befuddled, beaten, and sad.He spent his
time learning all the highly complex math required to even tackle Fermat’s Last
Theorem, and was not able to comprehend how to go about solving it.Math wins.