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Turing (A Novel About Computation) (2003)
Christos Papadimitriou
(click on names to see more mathematical fiction by the same author)
Highly Rated!
Note: This work of mathematical fiction is recommended by Alex for math majors, math grad students (and maybe even math professors).

The four vertices of an unlikely love "rectangle" are (a) a dying, maverick cryptographer, (b) a pregnant Internet wiz, (c) a romantic middle-aged Greek archaeologist and (d) Turing, an artificially intelligent computer program with the personality and memories of mathematician Alan Turing. The primary mathematical content comes in the form of lectures on the history and philosophy of computation that Turing gives to the archaeologist. Though I will offer a few minor complaints below, I must admit that these lectures are excellent and that they are included in a very clever way in an emotionally powerful work of art. As an anonymous site visitor has said, this is...

Contributed by Anonymous

A true masterpiece!

I am embarrassed to admit that I have not gotten around to actually reading and reviewing it here until six years after its release!

Authors love to bring Alan Turing back from the dead, and though the computer version of him in this story is too miraculous to believe, it is such a wonderful fantasy that I found myself able to suspend all disbelief in regards to this aspect of the story. Some other technological aspects, such as the virtual affair between the vertices (a) and (b) and the far-fetched idea for the original purpose of the ancient Greek computing device, were harder for me to accept.

The inclusion of an appendix made up of e-mail messages exchanged by readers of an early version of the book may have seemed very "Web 2.0" at the time, but I think it is not as useful as a true set of author's endnotes would have been.

The author, being a computer science professor at UC-Berkeley, knows his math well. Unlike many other books of this type, this one does not contain any mathematical errors that I can warn the reader about. However, I was a bit disturbed by his claim that the mathematics of calculus was not justified by proof until the development of non-standard analysis. (If he is right about this, then I wonder what I have missed in the "Advanced Calculus" class I just taught in which we seem to have rigorously derived all of the main theorems from a set of standard axioms for the real numbers!) Also, some of Turing's lectures, while technically correct, are a bit too clever for their own good and may confuse readers who are really learning the material for the first time. (For instance, his attempt to avoid Cantor's diagonalization proof and instead discuss the more general idea of paradox does not strike me as didactically wise, as the discussion in the appendix seems to confirm.)

But, despite these minor complaints, the book is generally right on target, and when it is it is great! In particular, the lectures on the origins of "proof" (from a Greek perspective), of computability/provability (from a computer science perspective), of price equilibria, and on the deeper implications of Euler's work on the Bridges of Koningsburg are all fantastic. And, they are woven into a story involving love, death and birth that literally gave me the chills. Highly recommended!

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Works Similar to Turing (A Novel About Computation)
According to my `secret formula', the following works of mathematical fiction are similar to this one:
  1. Machines Like Me by Ian McEwan
  2. A Certain Ambiguity: A Mathematical Novel by Gaurav Suri / Hartosh Singh Bal
  3. Quaternia by Tom Petsinis
  4. Cantor Trilogy by Harun Šiljak
  5. Logicomix by Apostolos Doxiadis / Christos Papadimitriou
  6. The Parrot's Theorem by Denis Guedj
  7. Doing our Babbage by Ira Slobodien
  8. iPhone SE by Weike Wang
  9. The Atrocity Archives by Charles Stross
  10. The Extraordinary Hotel or the Thousand and First Journey of Ion the Quiet by Naum Ya. Vilenkin
Ratings for Turing (A Novel About Computation):
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:
4.33/5 (3 votes)
Literary Quality:
3.67/5 (3 votes)

GenreScience Fiction, Didactic,
MotifProving Theorems, Real Mathematicians, Math as Beautiful/Exciting/Useful, Romance, Kurt Gödel, Alan Turing,
TopicComputers/Cryptography, Analysis/Calculus/Differential, Real Mathematics, Logic/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)