a list compiled by Alex Kasman (College of Charleston)

Home All New Browse Search About

The Man Who Counted : A Collection of Mathematical Adventures (1949)
Malba Tahan
Highly Rated!
Note: This work of mathematical fiction is recommended by Alex for children, young adults and math majors, math grad students (and maybe even math professors).

Contributed by Felipe Voloch, University of Texas

The Man who counted: delightful adventures of a medieval arabic mathematician. It is aimed at young readers (10+) but can be enjoyed by all. The mathematics is elementary but is all correct and nicely done. Some examples give the flavor of the book. Three brothers are arguing over their inheritance of 35 camels, since their father's instruction was to give 1/2 to the oldest, 1/3 to the second and 1/9 to the youngest son. Our hero appears on the scene as the brothers are about to hack some camels to pieces and he offers to lend his assistance and his camel. With 36 camels, he gives 18 to the oldest, 12 to the second, 4 to the youngest and keeps 2 to himself! In another scene, the hero has to tell whether the veiled concubines of the sheik have blue or brown eyes. The blue-eyed ones always lie and the brown-eyed ones never lie and he can only ask so many questions..."

Contributed by Asif Khalak

The book has a fairy tale flavor to it, with a lot of picturesque scenes and rather a lot of interesting mathematics. Even beyond the puzzles (many of which are non-trivial), there is also a description of the history of mathematics, including the invention of the zero (and why it was significant) and the invention of chess. Also, there is a part where the hero, as part of a tutoring session, describes the sub-fields of mathematics as those of arithmetic, algebra, and geometry, but that these areas are complementary rather than independent. Amazingly, there is enough story there to make the story itself kind of interesting, rather than being merely an excuse for the math lessons."

Though the Islamic feel of the book is quite convincing for the most part, the character's unrealistic emphasis on the appearances of Jesus in the Koran gives away the fact that it is a well done fake. Nothing on the copy of the book that I own indicates the true authorship of the book, but aparently in Brazil the author is well known.

Contributed by Geraldo Matonti

"The author of this book is really the Brazilian Julio Cesar de Mello e Souza, who lived in Rio de Janeiro and since his childhood loved the Arabic culture. You'll can find more in the following link (in Portuguese) "

Contributed by Anonymous

Simply an amazing book, its a delightful combination of the best of literature with the beauty of math, bringing some very interesting situations. Good not only for the development of the mathematical thinking, but also a fantastic tale to enjoy.

Contributed by Anonymous

Math made poetry!

Contributed by Anonymous

I used this in Grade -7 and the students responded very well to it. I also animated some parts of the story and that made students visualise the story and the concepts all the more. I enjoyed the reading.

Contributed by Richard de Rozario

Excellent writing, in the fashion of a collection of didactic fables, similar to "L.A. Math"

More information about this work can be found at
(Note: This is just one work of mathematical fiction from the list. To see the entire list or to see more works of mathematical fiction, return to the Homepage.)

Works Similar to The Man Who Counted : A Collection of Mathematical Adventures
According to my `secret formula', the following works of mathematical fiction are similar to this one:
  1. Number Stories: Learning Arithmetic Through the Adventures of Ralph and His Schoolmates by Alhambra G. Deming
  2. Number Stories of Long Ago by David Eugene Smith
  3. A Little Mathematician - Katie by Tadashi Miura
  4. Zéro, ou les Cinq vies d'Aemer by Denis Guedj
  5. Cálculo Infinitesimal de varias variables by Juan de Burgos Román
  6. Cálculo Infinitesimal de una variable by Juan de Burgos Román
  7. Thomas Gray: Philosopher Cat by Philip J. Davis
  8. Rapunzel's Etymology of Zero by Katie May (Writer) / Seth Podowitz (Director)
  9. The Story of Yung Chang by Ernest Bramah (Ernest Bramah Smith)
  10. 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
Ratings for The Man Who Counted : A Collection of Mathematical Adventures:
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:
4.64/5 (22 votes)
Literary Quality:
4.52/5 (23 votes)

GenreDidactic, Children's Literature, Young Adult,
MotifCool/Heroic Mathematicians,
TopicAlgebra/Arithmetic/Number Theory,
MediumShort Stories,

Home All New Browse Search About

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)