a list compiled by Alex Kasman (College of Charleston)

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The 39 Steps (1935)
Alfred Hitchcock (director)
(click on names to see more mathematical fiction by the same author)

Contributed by Christopher Wolfe

Alfred Hitchcock's 1935 thriller follows the getaway of Richard Hannay (Robert Donat), a man accused of murder. While Hannay must outsmart the police in his escape, he also finds himself sought by the actual assassins, who believe he is witness to a secret mathematical expression. The formula that everyone must know is a means of rendering an engine silent, finally divulged as “1 — (1/R)γ, where R represents the ratio of compression and gamma…” along with some fragments of the remainder of the formula. As is usual for a Hitchcock film, the driving force of the plot is trivial to the viewer. The classified expression, which every character cares about, is Hitchcock's trademark MacGuffin, a means to an end.

Apparently, math has its sinister side, for its secrets are guarded not only by professors and researchers, but political assassins. Hitchcock would continue this idea of top-secret math in his 1966 film Torn Curtain.

Contributed by Anonymous

I think it should be R-(1/R)γ

Contributed by Anonymous

No math at all. Don't be fooled by the number in the title.

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Works Similar to The 39 Steps
According to my `secret formula', the following works of mathematical fiction are similar to this one:
  1. The Sabre Squadron by Simon Raven
  2. The Day the Earth Stood Still by Robert Wise (director) / Harry Bates (story) / Edmund H. North
  3. Torn Curtain by Alfred Hitchcock (Director)
  4. 7 Steps to Midnight by Richard Matheson
  5. Petersburg by Andrei Bely
  6. White Rabbit, Red Wolf [This Story is a Lie] by Tom Pollock
  7. The Turing Enigma by Peter Wild (Screenwriter and Director)
  8. Cobra by R. Ajay Gnanamuthu (Director) / Kannan (Screenplay) / Sekar Neelan (Screenplay)
  9. The Boy Who Escaped Paradise by J.M. Lee (author) / Chi-Young Kim (translator)
  10. Null Set by S.L. Huang
Ratings for The 39 Steps:
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:
1.33/5 (3 votes)
Literary Quality:
3.33/5 (3 votes)

MotifMath as Beautiful/Exciting/Useful,
TopicMathematical Physics,

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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)