Notable Mathematical Fiction Books (and Other Recommendations)

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Like I was saying a couple weeks ago, mathematical fiction is both weird and, in some cases, unexplored. But that doesn’t mean that the genre hasn’t been tapped into. Some books may have mathematical influences that aren’t at the forefront, but they could still be called mathematical fiction.

Others on this list are mathematical books (or plays) I find purely interesting from a creative perspective. They not only show how mathematics can be used in a work but also how mathematics has been developed into what we see it as today. And this is just the tip of the iceberg. If you’re interested in learning more about the genre, this is a good place to start.

Here are a few notable works that share these qualities I mentioned.

The Phantom Tollbooth

The Phantom Tollbooth has been around since 1961, but for some reason it seems like a lot of people haven’t read it, and they should. Written by Norton Juster, it starts off with a boy named Milo who doesn’t see the point in learning anything. What follows is an adventure that’s often been called “The Pilgrim’s Progress of education” (which says a lot).

It’s not totally focused on mathematics, but rather education as a whole. There is however, a good chunk of the book dedicated to mathematics, especially how its mystery is what makes it worth it to learn.

Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass

One of the more well-known and enduring books with math fiction elements, along with its sequel. Lewis Carroll (also known as Charles Dodgson), who was an actual mathematician, wrote Alice in Wonderland in 1865 and the sequel Through the Looking Glass in 1871. Both books are filled with mathematical problems and elements that contribute to the nonsense world.

For me the best part is how much mathematics is infused in the work and how the world SOMEHOW functions despite it all. Because even if the work was meant to satirize the new math, you’re transported into a world where mathematics plays a key aspect to the story.

Flatland

Who would have thought that a square having an existential crisis would have anything to do with a critique of Victorian society? That’s just a little bit about what Flatland’s about. It’s about a lot of other bizarre things too. A point in space thinks it’s God, for one (it’s a whole thing).

Written by Edwin A. Abbott back in the 19th century, high school and college students have been forced to read this for math class (for some reason) for a long time. But hey, you learn about shapes! Which is probably why it’s been a staple in the mathematical genre since its rediscovery.

The Birds

This play by Aristophanes has long been associated with mathematics because of its references to geometry. The plot concerns a man, Pisthetaerus, who works to have birds create a new city in the sky reminiscent of heaven. While the play has been widely interpreted by scholars and mathematics isn’t it’s main topic, it’s still a great place to start if you want to learn a bit about mathematics as it was viewed in Greek times.

Elements

Probably the only book I’m recommending on this list that ISN’T fiction and IS by a mathematician. Written by Euclid, it contains a lot of writing on aspects of growing areas of mathematics such as theorems, sequences, and algorithms. It also contains a lot of information on polygons and even the five regular Platonic Solids.

One of the reasons I included this one is because it discusses a ton of concepts that you see in everyday life without even knowing it. The idea of this mathematical beauty is something you see in mathematical fiction as well, which I’ve touched on before, and it just seemed to fit here.


Want to know more? Check out some of my other posts while my portfolio is under construction! You’ll also find some helpful links to my work in journals in the Original Writing page. You can find me in Ariel Chart, The Cedarville Review, Nailpolish Stories, Bluepepper, 50 Word Stories, The Aurora Journal, Writing in a Woman’s Voice, The Drabble, Anti-heroin Chic, Art of Autism, Your Daily Poem, and Sledgehammer Lit. You can now also find my FREE microchap at Origami Poems Project, which I am also offering here.

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