Take Ten: Math in Fiction

With Pi Day just passed, we started thinking about some of the times we’ve unexpectedly – and pleasantly – seen math in fiction. Sometimes it fits the plot, and sometimes it’s part of a character’s traits, but in the following books, it’s an obvious positive rational element (well, sometimes it’s irrational, and maybe sometimes negative… :).


Anathem – Neal Stephenson

  • Having lived in a monastery since childhood, away from the violent upheavals of the outside world, Raz becomes one of a group of formerly cloistered scholars who are appointed by a fear-driven higher power to avert an impending catastrophe.

The Boy Who Escaped Paradise – J.M. Lee

  • An astonishing story of the mysteries dividing truth and deception that follows the odyssey of Ahn Gil­mo, a young autistic math genius, as he escapes from the most isolated country in the world and searches for the only family he has left.

Break Your Heart – Rhonda Helms

  • Math major Megan Porter is on the fast track to graduating with honors, but her senior year is quickly turned upside-down by her new thesis advisor, the intriguing cryptography professor Dr. Nick Muramoto. As she decodes the hidden messages he leaves in the margins of her assignments and in their emails, she realizes this might be more than a schoolgirl crush.

The Doubter’s Almanac – Ethan Canin

  • An exploration the mysteries of a father, a son, and a family, as well as the nature of genius, jealousy, ambition, and love.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime – Mark Haddon

  • Despite his overwhelming fear of interacting with people, Christopher, a mathematically-gifted, autistic fifteen-year-old boy, decides to investigate the murder of a neighbor’s dog and uncovers secret information about his mother.

The Fractal Murders – Mark Cohen

  • Learning that three instructors who were researching fractals have died under mysterious circumstances, fractal geometry professor Jane Smythe turns for help to former marine and private investigator Pepper Keane.

The Housekeeper and the Professor – Yoko Ogawa

  • A relationship blossoms between a brilliant math professor suffering from short-term memory problems following a traumatic head injury and the young housekeeper, the mother of a ten-year-old son, hired to care for him.

Measuring the World – Daniel Kehlmann

  • At the end of the 18th century, two young Germans set out to measure the world. One of them, Alexander von Humboldt, fought his way through jungles and across the steppes. The other, mathematician and astronomer Carl Friedrich Gauss, stayed at home in Gottingen, to prove that space is curved.

No One You Know – Michelle Richmond

  • Twenty years after the unsolved murder of her sister Lila, Ellie’s chance meeting with the man accused of the crime leads to the discovery of Lila’s secret notebook, filled with mathematical equations that lead to other enigmas in her sister’s life.

The Parrot’s Theorem – Denis Guedj

  • After inheriting a large library of math books, Mr. Ruche, a reclusive Parisian bookseller, encounters a young boy named Max who owns a math-obsessed parrot, and enlists the help of the parrot to teach Max and his siblings the wonders of mathematics.


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