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The French Mathematician: A Novel
by Tom Petsinis
ISBN 0425172910 / 9780425172919 / 0-425-17291-0
Publisher Berkley Trade
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The French Mathematician is a fictional memoir of Evariste Galois, the mathematical genius who made innovations in algebra before his untimely death in 1832. Galois narrates the book, describing how he sought solace in "the order and certainty of geometry" during the social and political upheaval in France at the time. The book chronicles his adolescence, his growth as a mathematician, his political awakening, and his death in a duel. Tom Petsinis teaches math at a university in Australia, and this is the first of his books to be published in the United States. The bare outline of Petsinis's book is interesting, but unfortunately The French Mathematician is somewhat overburdened with flowery language and hallucinatory dream sequences. When Galois works hard on a math problem, he tends to fall into a reverie, like this: "My heart was now beating faster than usual. No longer Evariste Galois, I am impersonal, at one with the eternal mind responsible for mathematics, impelled forward to discover the mystery at the center of the labyrinth. But just as the solution is within reach, I am distracted by the scent of chamomile." A scantily clad temptress interrupts the young genius's reverie during this hallucination and several others. Even though Galois struggles to separate himself from the distractions of the material world, a love affair ultimately brings on his demise. Evariste Galois was probably a fascinating, difficult person, but the budding mathematician Petsinis describes in this book is not a very likable or interesting character--he's a sort of humorless and bitter teen. --Jill Marquis [via]