When normality is abnormal

Suppose you were reading a novel, or watching a play or film, that included a fictional mathematician …

My guess is that the moment you read the two words “fictional mathematician” a second or two ago, your mind leapt ahead and you had a pretty good idea of what he—yes he, since even if there are female fictional mathematicians out there, femaleness is unlikely to be part of your instant and not fully conscious reaction to the phrase—was like: a social misfit who is prone to flashes of extraordinary insight that completely baffle everybody else, or perhaps a social misfit who would like to have those flashes but doesn’t and goes mad instead, or perhaps a social misfit who does have the insights but with madness the huge price he has to pay.

So here is a question: is there any example of a mathematician in literature, theatre or cinema who is a fairly normal person socially, and pretty good at maths but not astoundingly so? Some examples that do not work are Uncle Petros, from Uncle Petros and Goldbach’s Conjecture, both the father and the daughter in Proof, and Will from Good Will Hunting: they’re all either ridiculously good at maths (usually without having to do all that routine stuff like learning the proof of Schur’s lemma, or the open mapping theorem, or the Gram-Schmidt orthogonalization process etc.) or mad, or both. I also don’t count characters if they are colleagues of a crazy genius and their main role in the book/play/film is to marvel at how clever the crazy genius is. Let’s say that the character has to be the main one, or at least the main mathematical one.

Here is an answer to the question: as of recently, there is such a character. He may not be the first, but he is the first that I know of. I now have to confess that this post is a blatant plug, because the character in question appears in a book written by my sister, Rebecca Gowers. Because of this, I won’t say any more than that I liked the book, and particularly liked the fact that Joe, one of the two main characters, is not just a mathematician but a human being as well, and even, dare I say it, someone that a non-mathematician might enjoy being friends with. Also, even though his being a mathematician plays a role in the book, it is by no means essential to the plot — maths just happens to be his job. It’s not as earth-shatteringly exciting as the president of the United States just happening to be black, but in a very small way it provokes in me a similar feeling: it is a kind of acceptance that didn’t seem possible, and now it has happened.

Before you ask, my sister did ask me a few questions when she was writing the novel, but the mathematician in her novel is not based on me. If he were, then I wouldn’t be writing this. And if you’re interested, the book in question is called The Twisted Heart. If you Google it, you can find reviews.

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59 Responses to “When normality is abnormal”

  1. Sam Says:

    Not meaning to spoil this otherwise very effective plug, I just wanted to say that I seem to remember that the main character in Frank Tallis’ book “Killing Time” fits your description of “a mathematician (..) who is a fairly normal person socially, and pretty good at maths but not astoundingly so”.

  2. Gaius Says:

    How about Jeff Goldblum in Jurassic Park?

  3. Nathan Dunfield Says:

    Hmm, the character of Charlie Epps on the TV show Numb3rs is quite normal (more so that your typical actual mathematician, certainly). But he’s too good at math to meet your criteria. On the other hand, the FBI agents on the show are also impossibly good at their jobs, and perhaps some slack should be cut for a genre which requires an crime to be completely solved each 42 minute episode…

  4. Richard Says:

    Odenigbo in the wonderful ‘Half of a Yellow Sun’ is a mathematician, though it’s only incidental to his character (it is, however, crucial that he is an academic). In fact,I don’t think he ever directly mentions maths.

  5. Henry Wilton Says:

    Tom Jericho, the main character of Robert Harris’s Enigma, isn’t a bad fit for your criteria. He’s good at what he does (in this case breaking German codes) but not ridiculously so. And since he might be partially based on Turing, it seems acceptable for him to be pretty clever.

    Charlie Epps from Numb3rs, on the other hand, is absurdly broad – every week he turns out to to be an expert in an area of mathematics that we didn’t know he’d worked in before. I disagree with Nathan on the subject of his comparative normality, though. It’s not that he’s that abnormal, but I don’t think a ‘typical’ mathematician is that abnormal either. If you’ve ever been in a room full of mediaeval historians you’ll know what I’m talking about.

  6. Saul Says:

    Valentine Coverly in Stoppard’s Arcadia is a reasonable (but not great) mathematician and is also a well-rounded human being. Thomasina Coverly is too good at mathematics to meet your criteria.

  7. Saul Says:

    Also, the narrator of “The Oxford Murders” is a moderately good mathematician but not exceptional, beyond being able to get a postdoc at Oxford. Professor Seldom is presented as being exceptional, but perhaps that can be forgiven of a fictional full professor at Oxford…

  8. Gil Says:

    What about David Sumner (played by Dustin Hoffman) in “Straw dogs”?
    We can consider also Gregory Larkin (played by Jeff Bridges) in the “Mirror has two faces.

  9. Florent Schaffhauser Says:

    Dear Timothy,

    I certainly do not know of any fictional mathematician of the kind you described, which is why I will read the book you suggested :-)

    The following is somewhat related to what you were talking about (portrayals of mathematicians in movies or books). I have been looking for some time for a movie scene involving a mathematician proving a result that would be both not too easy nor too complicated, and doing so with an acceptable level of detail for the proof to be considered complete. That would probably occupy too many minutes in a movie to make it to the final cut, but if you or any reader of this blog knew of such a scene, I would be glad to hear about it.

    Best,
    Florent

    PS: I have enjoyed your VSI when I read it as a graduate student. Long live this blog.

  10. Semanticist Says:

    Hello, the protagonist of Musil’s “Man without qualities”, one of the 20th century’s defining novels is Ulrich, a 32 year old mathematician who’s “who is a fairly normal person socially, and pretty good at maths but not astoundingly so”.

    Wikipedia entry

    • David Says:

      I was suprised myself that this was omitted so far… This book is a masterpiece of world literature.

  11. Kristal Cantwell Says:

    In regard to a mathematical proof in a movie I remembered someone talking about the snake lemma scene in a movie so I looked up snake lemma movie on google and found the move(Its My turn) and a whole site devoted to mathematics in the movies:

    http://www.math.harvard.edu/~knill/mathmovies/swf/myturn_snake.html

    which is where I found the title of the movie with the snake lemma in it.

  12. VK Says:

    “even if there are female fictional mathematicians out there”

    “the daughter in Proof”

    That is an impressive level of double-think – doubting the existance of fictional female mathematicians _while_ giving one as an example.

    I can’t imagine why people don’t instantly think of mathematicians as female when mathematicians who should know better dismiss the idea.

    • gowers Says:

      That is quite embarrassing. In my very weak defence, let me say that I wasn’t exactly doubting their existence, but just couldn’t think of any. And then when I did think of one a few minutes later I had forgotten about my earlier remark. Also, I was quite careful to say that the mathematician who is male is the stereotypical fictional mathematician and not the actual mathematician. But it seems that I was wrong even about the former.

  13. VK Says:

    The 351 Books of Irma Arcuri (2008)
    David Bajo

    Abendland (Occident) (2007)
    Michael Köhlmeier

    Advanced Calculus of Murder (1988)
    Erik Rosenthal

    The Adventures of Topology Man (2005)
    Alex Kasman

    Alphabet (2002)
    Chelsea Spear

    Antonia’s Line (1995)
    Marleen Gorris

    Arcadia (1993)
    Tom Stoppard

    The Beekeeper’s Apprentice: Or the Segregation of the Queen (1994)
    Laurie R. King

    Beyond the Limit: The Dream of Sofya Kovalevskaya (2002)
    Joan Spicci

    Border Guards (1999)
    Greg Egan

    A Calculated Demise (2007)
    Robert Spiller

    Case of Lies (2005)
    Perri O’Shaughnessy

    A Certain Ambiguity: A Mathematical Novel (2007)
    Gaurav Suri / Hartosh Singh Bal

    Conceiving Ada (1997)
    Lynn Hershman-Leeson

    Contact (1985)
    Carl Sagan

    Dark as Day (2002)
    Charles Sheffield

    The Dark Lord (2005)
    Patricia Simpson

    The Difference Engine (1991)
    William Gibson / Bruce Sterling

    Digital Fortress (1996)
    Dan Brown

    A Disappearing Number (2007)
    Simon McBurney

    Distress (1995)
    Greg Egan

    Division by Zero (1991)
    Ted Chiang

    Eifelheim (2006)
    Michael Flynn

    Evariste and Heloise (2008)
    Marco Abate

    Eye of the Beholder (2005)
    Alex Kasman

    The Fairytale of the Completely Symmetrical Butterfly (2003)
    Dietmar Dath

    Fermat’s Room (La Habitacion de Fermat) (2007)
    Luis Piedrahita / Rodrigo Sopeña

    The Five Hysterical Girls Theorem (2000)
    Rinne Groff

    Flowers Stained with Moonlight (2005)
    Catherine Shaw

    The Fractal Murders (2001)
    Mark Cohen

    Gambler’s Rose (2000)
    G.W. Hawkes

    The Ghost from the Grand Banks (1990)
    Arthur C. Clarke

    The Giant Claw (1957)
    Fred F. Sears (director)

    Gifted: A Novel (2007)
    Nikita Lalwani

    The Givenchy Code (2005)
    Julie Kenner

    Hamisch in Avalon (1995)
    Eliot Fintushel

    A Higher Geometry (2006)
    Sharelle Byars Moranville

    A Hill on the Dark Side of the Moon (1983)
    Lennart Hjulström

    Hypatia (2000)
    Mac Wellman

    Hypatia: New Foes with an Old Face (1852)
    Charles Kingsley

    In the River (2006)
    Justin Stanchfield

    Irrational Numbers (2008)
    Robert Spiller

    It’s My Turn (1980)
    Claudia Weill (director)

    Leaning Towards Infinity (1996)
    Sue Woolfe

    Letters to a Young Mathematician (2006)
    Ian Stewart

    Lord Byron’s Novel: The Evening Land (2005)
    John Crowley

    Love Counts (2005)
    Michael Hastings (libretto) / Michael Nyman (score)

    Luminous (1995)
    Greg Egan

    Mathemagics (1996)
    Margaret Ball

    MathNet (1987)
    Childrens Television Workshop

    The Measure of Eternity (2006)
    Sean McMullen

    Monster (2005)
    Alex Kasman

    Mrs. Warren’s Profession (1894)
    George Bernard Shaw

    Murder, She Conjectured (2005)
    Alex Kasman

    No One You Know (2008)
    Michelle Richmond

    No Regrets (2007)
    Shannon Butcher

    NUMB3RS (2005)
    Nick Falacci / Cheryl Heuton

    The Object (2005)
    Alex Kasman

    Orpheus Lost: A Novel (2007)
    Janette Turner Hospital

    The Oxford Murders (2004)
    Guillermo Martinez

    Pop Quiz (2005)
    Alex Kasman

    PopCo (2004)
    Scarlett Thomas

    Proof (2000)
    David Auburn (playwright)

    Pythagoras’ Revenge: A Mathematical Mystery (2009)
    Arturo Sangalli

    Reality Conditions (2005)
    Alex Kasman

    Recess (Episode: A Genius Among Us) (2000)
    Brian Hamill

    River of Gods (2006)
    Ian McDonald

    The Rock (1996)
    Robert Doherty

    The Secret Life of Amanda K. Woods (1998)
    Ann Cameron

    The Shadow Guests (1980)
    Joan Aiken

    Shooting the Sun (2004)
    Max Byrd

    Silicon Muse (1984)
    Hilbert Schenck

    The Simpsons: Girls Just Want to Have Sums (2006)
    Matt Selman

    Singleton (2002)
    Greg Egan

    Smilla’s Sense of Snow (1993)
    Peter Hoeg

    Snow (1998)
    Geoffrey A. Landis

    Sophie’s Diary (2004)
    Dora Musielak

    Strange Attractors (1993)
    Rebecca Goldstein

    The Sudoku Murder (2007)
    Shelley Freydont

    The Three Body Problem (2004)
    Catherine Shaw

    Threshold (1997)
    Sara Douglass

    Two Moons (2000)
    Thomas Mallon

    Unreasonable Effectiveness (2003)
    Alex Kasman

    Villages (2004)
    John Updike

    What Are the Odds? (2006)
    Justin Spitzer (writer) / Matthew Tritt (director)

    The Witch of Agnesi (2006)
    Robert Spiller

    You Don’t Scare Me (2007)
    John Farris

    Zilkowski’s Theorem (2003)
    Karl Iagnemma

    (List generated from http://kasmana.people.cofc.edu/MATHFICT/default.html)

    88 stories of fictional female mathematicians, from opera to children’s cartoon.

  14. Boonton Says:

    How about Nash’s buddies/co-workers in the movie version of A Beautiful Mind?

    • Jim Miles Says:

      I like that suggestion, even though it falls under “colleagues of a crazy genius and their main role in the book/play/film is to marvel at how clever the crazy genius is”. When I saw the film I was a sixth-former about to go to Warwick to read Maths, and I found those guys really inspiring as hard-working and intelligent – but ultimately down to earth – Mathematicians.

  15. Charles Wells Says:

    Daniel Hood in the Brodie Farrell series by Jo Bannister is a high school math teacher who is treated quite positively in the series. He is definitely weird, but in a good way — a kind of saint who insists on being honest whatever the cost. I wrote about him in this post:
    http://sixwingedseraph.wordpress.com/2008/09/11/daniel-the-mathematician/

  16. teageegeepea Says:

    There’s another female mathematician in the game Eternal Darkness. I don’t think the mathematician aspect is relevant to any part of the game though.

  17. Miguel Lacruz Says:

    What about Hamlet?

    I am ill at these numbers.

  18. mariana Says:

    This person must be wierd, you just did not noticed it yet

  19. Georg Says:

    There’s a famous (if rarely read in full — think Joyce’s “Ulysses” or Proust’s “A la recherche du temps perdu” for comparison) German novel by Musil: “Der Mann ohne Eigenschaften”, whose protagonist is only incidentally a mathematician (he doesn’t work as one in the novel) and a fairly average and nondescript person in most respects (the title means “the man without properties”). He has more affairs and mistresses than most real-life mathematicians, though, although Schroedinger and Einstein come close on the DAMTP-ish side.

  20. Richard Gill (mathematician) Says:

    I’m glad Sue Woolfe’s “a leaning to infinity” was mentioned in the long list above. I bought it some years ago at a remainder sale on the basis of its title and was not disappointed. The lady mathematician heroine of the book is a kind of Ramanujan from an Austalian small town in the outback and invents a wonderful theory about some new kind of special numbers. She gets invited to a big conference in Greece only to find that as a woman and an amateur she is treated as some kind of freak. Most of the book is devoted to her relationship with her mother and with men. I am not being sarcastic or sexist, it’s a great little book. Musil is a great Great book. The man without qualities is a post-modern anti-hero and has more true quality than all the “normal” people in the book.

  21. Successful Researcher: How to Become One Says:

    Great post but I’m afraid I’ve got nothing to add to the list — VK’s comment covers all I could think of :)

  22. paranoid android Says:

    The recent book The solitude of the primes by Paolo Giordano, a italian PhD student, is a great book whose main character is a a young man who becomes a mathematician. It is true that he is a very troubled person, so he is certainly not the character you are looking for. However, his problems come from a severe childhood trauma, so are not the result of him doing mathematics. Also he appears to work very hard for his good results.
    A further positive note is that his colleague later in the book is a very symphatetic man with a nice family who tries to help the main character.
    Maybe a perfectly ordinary mathematician with a perfecty ordinary life is not someting regular readers are interested in as a main character :)
    Unfortunatly the aformentioned book has not yet been translated to english, but it will soon be as it is a huge bestseller in Italy at the moment.

    • ogerard Says:

      A very curious and quite funny book, only in french as far as I know, is Le Théorème de Travolta de Olivier Courcelle. Two of the main characters are very ordinary young mathematicians going to an international congress. This does not fit all criteria of the original question, but is close. I am not sure that one would like to be friend with them but you could end finding them “touching”.

  23. Felipe Voloch Says:

    Professor Moriarty? He wasn’t mad, just evil.

    • Jim Miles Says:

      This was who I first thought of too. I can’t remember the backstory or how great he’s supposed to be at Mathematics (a wikipedia look will probably reveal a string of prestigious academic achievements that don’t really bear much influence on the stories), but I always enjoyed how it was casually worked in that he had a Mathematics background.

  24. Keith Says:

    The heroine in Sagan’s “Contact” seems pretty “normal”, and she found those circular thingies way downstream in pi, ya know.

  25. giros Says:

    Going beyond folklore into problem-solving, The Gallons Puzzle
    in Die Hard 3. Bruce Willis with Samuel Jackson had to diffuse
    a bomb in a fountain of water given only two empty vases with
    three and five gallon capacity. The weight meter deactivated
    the bomb after detecting four gallons of water.

  26. Giles Warrack Says:

    Just thought of another example, Christopher Tietjens (actually rather more of a government statistician) in that quartet by Ford Maddox Ford

  27. Giles Warrack Says:

    Re Moriarty: there is a vague reference to his having done extraordinary research “on the binomial theorem” (probably the limit of Conan Doyle’s mathematical knowledge) but otherwise there is no reference to his life as a mathematician.

    • gowers Says:

      That reminds me of a character I once came across in a novel by Candia McWilliam who did research on vector spaces. Perhaps there’s an entire category of fictional mathematicians who do research on implausibly elementary topics. (In case I’m accidentally insulting anyone here, I recognise that there are interesting problems in linear algebra, but one would describe that area as linear algebra rather than vector spaces.)

  28. Anonymous Says:

    A Hill on the Dark Side on the Moon (Berget pa manens baksida), with Gunilla Nyroos playing Sonya Kovalevskaya. It is conjectured that the reason for the title is that there is a moon mountain named after her
    (Luna 3 was the first to take the photograph). ps Linear algebra can be used to impress physicists in the quest to understand high temperature superconductivity. Surely a math biologist can come up with such an idea.

    • gowers Says:

      I still think that nobody would describe their research as being “in vector spaces”. Somehow that suggests people looking for general theorems about vector spaces, interesting examples of vector spaces etc. But linear algebra is a different story — obviously there is a lot that can be said once matrices and linear maps enter the picture.

  29. Speedy Says:

    How about Trillian in the “Hitchhikers guide to the Galaxy”?

  30. Steve Says:

    In the movie “21 grams”, Sean Penn plays a mathematics professor. The fact that he is a mathematician is not at all essential to the story, and he is indeed a main character. He does go a bit crazy at the end, but this is due to his fatal heart condition rather than his capacity for abstract thought. This seems to satisfy your criteria.

  31. RZ Says:

    Bennet O’Reilly in Connie Willis’ “Bellwether”. In fact I think the main protagonist , Sandra Foster, is either a statistician or a sociologist.

  32. SK Says:

    Hari Seldon from Asimov’s Foundation series.

  33. JSE Says:

    Leonard Michaels wrote a series of short stories about a math professor named Nachman; he was, as I recall, a sort of averagely neurotic guy who was a competent researcher but not a star.

  34. anon Says:

    the guy from Ringu (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0178868/) happens to be a mathematician, even though this has no relevance to the plot.

  35. anonymous Says:

    The main character in the early 80s film _It’s My Turn_ is a perfect (counter)example: normal and female.

    The film (a romantic comedy!) opens with what has been called the most erudite mathematical scene ever to appear in a major motion picture: a proof of the Snake Lemma.

    (This one may also qualify under implausibly elementary research: rumor has it that an early version of the film had the main character doing research in “finite simple abelian groups”; apparently this caused a mathematician in a test audience to burst out laughing.)

  36. Elsinor Says:

    “Normal” mathematicians appear from time to time in episodes of Inspector Morse. They sometimes end up in jail, or, more usually, dead.

  37. kim Says:

    Dr.Gowers,

    Suppose instead we were to ask whether there are any real mathematicians who are social misfits who are prone to flashes of extraordinary insight that completely baffle everybody else, are there any other examples than Ramanujan?

  38. Giles Warrack Says:

    Is it really fair to refer to Ramanujan as a “social misfit”? According to both Hardy and Littlewood he was a friendly and sociable person, if somewhat unusual, as might be expected of a self-educated Indian transplanted to Cambridge in the 1920′s

  39. Giles Warrack Says:

    Has anyone noticed that Alex Kasman of the College of Charleston has a VERY comprehensive webpage devoted to mathematics and mathematicians in fiction. He also features in VK’s list as the author of “Murder She Conjectured”

    http://kasmana.people.cofc.edu/MATHFICT/

    Just the other day I heard a book review on NPR about an aging mathematician who loses his memory, but in rather a curious way, he can only remember things in cycles. My memory is not so great either, since I can’t remember the title or the author, who is Japanese

  40. Felipe Zaldivar Says:

    Hi Giles, the book you are referring to is “The Housekeeper and the Professor” by Yoko Ogawa, and indeed is a beautiful book: The characters are an aging math professor who, because of and injury in a car accident his short-time memory lasts only about 80 min and goes around his life with lots of papers stuck to his clothing to remind him of the most trivial matters; the other characters are his housekeeper and her 10 son whom the professor calls “root” because his haircut reminds him of the square root symbol!

  41. De eenzaamheid van de priemgetallen « Piet Groeneboom's blog Says:

    [...] Maar goed, daar gaat het boek eigenlijk niet over. Het gaat over hoe de twee hoofdpersonen op hun eigen manier reageren op een verschrikkelijke gebeurtenis in hun jeugd. Een grappig detail is dat het onsympathiekste en wreedste personage in het boek (Viola) kiest voor… rechten als studie en in dit verband ook opmerkt dat wiskunde onbelangrijk is (want ze gaat toch rechten studeren). De manlijke hoofdpersoon past wel weer helemaal in het beeld dat wordt opgeroepen in de amusante blog van Timothy Gowers: When normality is abnormal. [...]

    • Giles Warrack Says:

      is “priemgetallen” Dutch/Flemish/Afrikaans (either AND or OR) for “prime numbers”?

  42. Anonymous Says:

    There is a newly published graphic novel Logicomix by Apostolos Doxiadis and Christos Papadimitriou.

  43. Richard Gill Says:

    “Priemgetallen” is Dutch for prime numbers. Officially, written Flemish and Dutch are the same language. I don’t know about Afrikaans (I’ll ask an Afrikaner).

  44. Giles Warrack Says:

    I think Afrikaans is similar, for this reason: when I was at the University of Iowa I had a (non-Afrikaans) South African friend doing an MA in English. At the last minute he found out that he had to take a foreign language exam in two languages. He told the authorities he could do one in French which he did. The second language posed a problem. Then he had the bright idea of getting a Belgian or Dutch born faculty member to set an exam in Flemish, figuring his schoolbook Afrikaans would get him through. A Belgian doctor was found in the medical school who set a simple exam which Rob passed.

  45. Richard Gill Says:

    My Afrikaner mathematician colleague says “Almost. The Afrikaans for most Dutch plurals ending in ‘n’ omits it. So ‘Priemgetallen’ would be ‘Priemgetalle’ in Afrikaans”

  46. Giles Warrack Says:

    all of this is inspiring me to write a book about a person who is a mediocre mathematician but a totally bizarre person.

    Watch this space but don’t hold your breath.

  47. ogerard Says:

    I have not seen in this list the book of Chad Taylor (New Zealand) Electric where you have two mathematicians. They are not the main characters but are very important in the story and one of them is a woman. They are not really normal or ordinary but quite reasonably human.
    I wonder if other readers of this blog have read this book.

  48. logician Says:

    Both mathematicians in “One billion years before the end of the world” by Strugatskie brothers are normal. Also quite interesting. And no stereotypes involved (unless I have the same stereotypes. :) )

  49. Andrew Breslin Says:

    I write a good deal of mathematical fiction, and most of my mathematician characters are quirky and odd, but so too are most of my non-mathematician characters. Odd is more fun than normal, for me.

    My first published novel features a mathematician who is extremely true-to-formula. He’s male, very smart, and totally lacking in social graces. But that’s mainly because he’s based largely on myself and I am a fairly textbook example of a nerd. Also, he was fun to write, as a more normal character might not be. Most of the people who provided me with feedback on the book said that he was their favorite character.

    For my second novel, the mathematician isn’t normal either, and he’s again male, but other than that is the polar opposite. He’s a rugged outlaw mathematician, facing the classic prisoner’s dilemma. He committed armed robbery along with an accomplice and is pressured to turn evidence against his partner, though he’ll only do a lighter sentence for burglary and theft if they both stay quiet.

    While in prison he uses math extensively, including analyzing game theoretic factors in prison race relations, determining the optimal price of illicit goods in the black market economy, and deciding whether or not specific conflicts are likely to escalate and whether he should simply shank his enemies before they inevitably shank him.

    I think the literary canon is sorely lacking in sexy rugged outlaw mathematicians.

    Sadly, the publisher of my first novel has no interest in this one as she hates math and there is much more math in this one than the first. If anyone out there thinks this would make for a good story and has any thoughts on finding a publisher, please let me know.

    P.S. I have one short story, “The Grapes of Math” that features a female mathematician, and a very normal, un-quirky one. But most of the other mathematicians in that story are odd and all of them male, so I am guilty as hell of perpetuating stereotypes. Except for the rugged outlaw guy, I suppose.

    P.P.S Your sister’s novel sounds very interesting, Professor Gowers. I’d like to check that out.

  50. Piet Groeneboom Says:

    I was surprised to see a part of my Blog in Dutch on the novel
    “The solitude of the prime numbers” by Paolo Giordano
    appear in the comments. I certainly did not put it there!
    It is true though that I gave a link to “When normality is abnormal”
    in my own blog on Paolo Giordano’s novel, so it may be a peculiarity of
    WordPress on which Timotht Gowers and I both have our Blogs.

    Another thing is that another main character of
    a recent novel can be added to the list of
    mathematicians who are pretty good at maths
    but not astoundingly so: the male main character
    Tengo of Murakami’s recent trilogy 1q84. And, although
    Tengo sees two moons if he looks up at the sky, I would
    nevertheless also call him a faily normal person.

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