a list compiled by Alex Kasman (College of Charleston)

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Gödel, Escher Bach: an eternal golden braid (1979)
Douglas Hofstadter
Highly Rated!
Note: This work of mathematical fiction is recommended by Alex for young adults and math majors, math grad students (and maybe even math professors).

Pulitzer Prize wining book whose chapters alternate between fictional "dialogues" and more standard non-fiction format to present ideas from philosophy, art, music and psychology as well as mathematical topics such as computability, Zeno's paradox or symbolic logic. This book does a fantastic job of conveying the beauty of mathematical logic, and the mathematical logic of beauty. Where else can you see an example of a logical paradox (a proof of Fermat's last theorem which relies on the existence of a counter-example to the theorem) being used by a tortoise to make a recording of Bach playing the harpsichord? (Nowhere else that I know of anyway!)

I have received a lot of complaints from people about the inclusion of GEB on this list. Certainly, it is really a book of non-fiction and these fictional interludes are just there to be artistic examples of the points described elsewhere. However, both because of its celebrity and because its "interludes" have been reprinted in collections of mathematical fiction, I have decided to include it here anyway. It should be noted that in general I do not include works of non-fiction which illustrate some points through fictional examples.

Contributed by Nelson

While the book Contact makes me want to build or buy a supercomputer to analyze prime numbers, this book makes me want to run for public office in an attempt to burn mathematicians at the stake. What pompous tripe. This book does nothing to illustrate or expound on the inherent beauty of mathematics and mathematical relationships in nature. This book will serve only to alienate non-mathematicians and bore mathematicians. PS I did not finish the book. I tried twice and failed. Then it occurred to me; it's not my fault I couldn't read this book. I can read Eco like the Sunday comics. This book bored me to tears.

Contributed by Joseph Blanc

I found this monster of a book the work of a man who know a lot about a few things and a little about many, many things. Hofstadter, it seems to me, has an extraordinarily bloated ego. In trying to tie all the themes of human creation, he succeeds only in giving us pleasant "proverbs".

Contributed by Alec Nicholson

Most criticisms of GEB I encounter seem to me to stem from people's disappoinment that the book isn't quite what THEY would like it to be, rather than any particular flaw in the book itself.

It's entertaining, and for the most part accurate, and deals with interesting subjects. I'm sure Achilles and the Tortoise could have a lively debate concerning whether it's possible for there to be a PERFECT book covering broadly similar topics but at any rate there isn't currently a BETTER one.

At a personal level it's interesting to have read it once at 15 and once at 30, and assessing how ten intervening years at University studying music and philosophy changed my response to it: I think it's a compliment to Hoffstadter that I was able to enjoy it both times.

Contributed by Matthew Male

An extremely clever book, but certainly not a pleasure to read: the author has a rather juvenile sense of humour and isn't great at explaining his ideas - or motivating the reader.

Contributed by Gabriel Hanley

I feel compelled to leave a positive review of this book by how many negative ones seem to dominate its entry on the database - all that the summary says is true; this is not primarily a book of mathematical fiction so much as it is a textbook, but it's a brilliant textbook that's highly entertaining and which has prompted me to much thought (as high praise as I can give just about any work of art). Speaking of its literary aspects, though they are constrained by the nature of the text, it's not without merit - I often hear people talk about how characters in some books come to feel like old friends, but I don't usually come to feel that way myself. Somehow, despite the characters in Gödel, Escher, Bach being simple bundles of clear character traits that serve primarily as examples, I found myself feeling that way upon completing the book, anyway. I should like to pay them another visit sometime in the future.

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Works Similar to Gödel, Escher Bach: an eternal golden braid
According to my `secret formula', the following works of mathematical fiction are similar to this one:
  1. Dialógusok a matematikáról [Dialogues on Mathematics] by Alfréd Rényi
  2. Cálculo Infinitesimal de varias variables by Juan de Burgos Román
  3. Cálculo Infinitesimal de una variable by Juan de Burgos Román
  4. No Chance by Guy Hasson
  5. Let's Consider Two Spherical Chickens by Tommaso Bolognesi
  6. The Raven and the Writing Desk by Ian T. Durham
  7. Über die Schrift hinaus by Ulla Berkéwicz
  8. Los relatos de Gudor Ben Jusá: Cuentos y consejas con algo de matemáticas más son pocas y de las viejas by Juan de Burgos Román
  9. Cantor’s Dragon by Craig DeLancy
  10. The Gnome and the Pearl of Wisdom: A Fable by Richard Willmott
Ratings for Gödel, Escher Bach: an eternal golden braid:
RatingsHave you seen/read this work of mathematical fiction? Then click here to enter your own votes on its mathematical content and literary quality or send me comments to post on this Webpage.
Mathematical Content:
4.53/5 (21 votes)
Literary Quality:
4.19/5 (21 votes)

TopicLogic/Set Theory,

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Exciting News: The 1,600th entry was recently added to this database of mathematical fiction! Also, for those of you interested in non-fictional math books let me (shamelessly) plug the recent release of the second edition of my soliton theory textbook.

(Maintained by Alex Kasman, College of Charleston)