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The Wild Numbers: A Novel

by Philibert Schogt

ISBN 1568581661 / 9781568581668 / 1-56858-166-1
Publisher Four Walls Eight Windows
Language English
Edition Hardcover
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Book summary

Mathematical insight is like an assassin's bullet--you don't know it's there until it hits you. Dutch philosopher and mathematician Philibert Schogt shows us the workings of the math-obsessed mind in his short novel The Wild Numbers. Following the mental and physical ramblings of the unspectacular Professor Isaac Swift as he comes closer to solving a beautifully thorny problem left behind generations ago by an eccentric French genius, the book cleverly dissects the forces driving mathematical creativity. Swift just barely balances his overpowering mental impulses, often likened to a "buzzing in his head," with his physical and social needs. Those familiar with academic math departments will find Schogt's eccentric crank Leonard Vale entertaining and all too true:

The pages crawled with incomprehensible equations in his familiar scratchy handwriting. He always threw in as many integral signs, sigmas, and other mathematical symbols as possible, reminding me of the calculations of comic book geniuses. Here and there he had left a clearing in the dense jungle of formulae, in which he had written profound aphorisms, underlined three times and followed by three exclamation marks.
Vale becomes a serious problem when he accuses Swift of plagiarizing his work, driving the novel toward its dark conclusion. Nonmathematical readers shouldn't fear--the few equations are simply illustrations of Swift's thinking, and no advanced knowledge is required to follow the plot. Contrasting the flash of insight with the dull glow of truth, The Wild Numbers illuminates the plight of a mathematical mind stuck in a real world. --Rob Lightner [via]