Mathematical Resources

Popular Resources

How has mathematics been used in fiction?

There are, of course, hundreds of fiction books that use mathematics as a theme, a mathematician as protagonist, or have a mathematical solution (the more recent ones seem to be mostly science fiction). There are also numerous sites on the Internet that specialize in mathematics and fiction. For example, the MathFiction site ( run by Alex Kasman at the College of Charleston has an entire collection of not only books, but movies and other media featuring math in fiction. The following is merely a small taste of such titles, past and recent:

1 to 999—This book is by famous science fiction (and nonfiction) writer Isaac Asimov, who once earned a living as a chemist. In this book, cryptologists try to break a simple code, with one of the key clues being the frequency with which letters appear.

Sixty Million Trillion Combinations—Another book by Asimov, in which one of his recurring characters in his “Black Widower” mystery series, Tom Trumbull, tries to convince an eccentric mathematician that his secret password is not safe. Asimov had several more books with mathematical connections, which are a strong emphasis in many of his short story collections and over 500 published books.

Kepler: A Novel—This John Banville book gives a fictionalized, yet somewhat accurate, portrayal of the Renaissance mathematician and astronomer—from his work to determine the orbits of the planets to some more eccentric ideas, such as why there are only six planets in the solar system in terms of Platonic solids.

The Difference Engine—In this science fiction, alternate reality tale by William Gibson and Bruce Sterling, mathematicians Charles Babbage and Ada Lovelace (Byron) actually succeed in making the difference engine (for more about the difference engine, see “Math in Computing”).

The Nine Billion Names of God— Arthur C. Clarke’s classic story in which two programmers hired by a Buddhist sect seek to find all true names of God by exhausting a combinatorial library of possibilities—a story that combines mathematics, computers, and religion.

Round the Moon—Written in 1870 by Jules Verne, this classic book about space travel comes complete with two chapters—chapter 4 “A Little Algebra” and chapter 15 “Hyperbola or Parabola”—containing detailed mathematics as discussed by the space-faring crew.

Adventure of the Final Problem—And of course, one can’t forget Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes, his sidekick Dr. Watson, and Holmes’s major adversary, Professor Moriarty. This is the first story that mentions Moriarty, introducing him as a professor of mathematics who wins fame as a young man for his extension of the binomial theorem.


Jules Verne wrote the classic science fiction tale Round the Moon. As well as being an entertaining space travel story, it includes mathematical discussions about algebra, parabolas, and hyperbolas.


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