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Intoxicating Heights (Höhenrausch. Die Mathematik des XX. Jahrhunderts in zwanzig Gehirnen) (2003)
Dietmar Dath
(click on names to see more mathematical fiction by the same author)

Contributed by Andrea Albrecht

Word by word I would translate Dath's "Höhenrausch" as "High-altitude Euphoria. Mathematics of the 20th century in 20 brains". It is a collection of short stories and fictional portraits of (I copy the table of content) Cantor, Hilbert, Poincaré, Brouwer, Noether, Ramanujan, Gödel, Dirac, Turing, Kolmogorow, von Neumann, Dieudonné, Grothendieck, Chaitin, Thom, Robinson, Mandelbrot, Witten, Wolfram. Dath is really interested in telling the reader both, something about the life of the mathematicians and something about their mathematical achievements, so he includes real math, for example the axioms of probability theory, definitions of series, groups, Gödel numbers, rings and ideals, etc.

This wonderful collection of short stories appears to be available in German, but not yet in English. A translation of two of the stories (and all of the titles) appears here on the publisher's website, suggesting that they are actively seeking someone to purchase the English rights. Having only read these two stories myself, I would urge any interested American/British publisher to please consider doing so!

I will add links to the separate stories as I learn more about them. For now, I can only comment specifically on the two which I have read in translation:

In the preface to this collection, the author attempts to explain why he has written about this particular assortment of mathematicians and not (for instance) Steve Smale or Roger Penrose. He answers

(quoted from Intoxicating Heights (Höhenrausch. Die Mathematik des XX. Jahrhunderts in zwanzig Gehirnen))

Let me put it this way: when I felt that I had a story to tell about someone, then that person got into the book along with the story. It would be megalomania to wish to establish and employ absolute standards, for which I lack the requisite generally accepted perspective, something hardly anyone can nowadays claim to possess in the many different disciplines that should in principle be considered.

Contributed by Hauke Reddmann

In the foreword Dath lists all "never happened" parts that he invented (Dieringshofen is a completely fictive character, as you know), so one can somewhat safely assume all other parts are essentially nonfictional. Still, they are sometimes written in a nonstandard biographic style and I will shortly comment on that too.

So much being said, fictions are marked with X.

I tried to translate the titles myself, see notes below.

X1 Georg Cantor
Shakespeare hat alles vorausgewußt
Shakespeare know it all before

2 David Hilbert
Der Allerunbequemste
The Superuncomfortable

X3 Jules Henri Poincare
Unterm Glashimmel
Under A Sky of Glass

4 Luitzen Egbertus Jan Brouwer
Die Sprache ist ein zu unbeholfenes Instrument
Language is too clumsy an instrument

X5 Amalie Emmy Noether
Das Märchen vom völlig symmetrischen Schmetterling
The Completely Symmetric Butterfly's Fairy Tale

6 Srinivasa Ramanujan
Offenbarung und Beweisfaulheit
Revelation and Proof Idleness

X7 Kurt Gödel
Das Gespenst der Luce Library
The Ghost of the Luce Library

X8 Paul Adrien Maurice Dirac
Der Spiegel der Natur
The Mirror of Nature

X9 Alan Matheson Turing
Gibt es einen mathematischen Epochenstil?
Is there an era style for math?

X10 Andrej Nikolajewitsch Kolmogorow
Aus den Memoiren eines alteuropäischen Adligen
From the memoirs of an Old Europe nobleman

X11 John von Neumann
Das Spiel Grau
The Game "Grey"

12 Jean Alexandre Dieudonne & Nicolas Bourbaki
Das Rechenzentrum der Avantgarde
Avantgarde's computing center

13 Alexandre Grothendieck
Wann fällt Babylon?
When does Babylon fall?

X14 Gregory Chaitin
Zwei coole intellektuelle Frauen reden öber Omega
Two cool intellectual women talk about Omega

15 Rene Thom
Streit, Verdruß und Katastrophen: Ein harter Job
Strife, Vexation and Catastrophes: A tough job

X16 Julia Bowman Robinson
Wahrheit und Gesundheit
Truth and Health

X17 Benoit Mandelbrot
In der Falle

X18 Edward Witten
Altitude sickness

19 Stephen Wolfram
Im Zellenweltgebäude
In Cellworld

X20 Lena Dieringshofen
Eine Art Angst
A kind Of fear


2 Punning a bit with "Superunknown" by Soundgarden. Dath would probably approve, he's from the music scene.

5 Somewhat of a genetiv abuse since "of" and "from" are both "vom" in German, so it's a bit misleading but intentionally so by me! More correct is the translation on your site.

6 "Beweisfaulheit" is a typical Mark-Twain-ism - you can only approximate the feeling in English.

9 Likewise "era style" is the best I could come up with.

10 It's the Europe that is old. (I never found New Europe on a globe BTW :-)

12 "Computing" here: rather "doing math" than "doing informatics". But "Rechenzentrum" in German always implies the latter. Can't reambiguate that in English.

14 "Cool" for "cool" isn't too cool nowadays, so if you have newer slang, substitute freely :-)

18 I inserted the Wiki equivalent - of course "Intoxicating Heights" does more poetic service.

19 Like 6&9, the pompous "Weltgebäude" is only acceptable in likewise pompous German philosophy language (from where the word comes). So I simply dropped a literal -house from the translation.

More information about this work can be found at
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Works Similar to Intoxicating Heights (Höhenrausch. Die Mathematik des XX. Jahrhunderts in zwanzig Gehirnen)
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. Riot at the Calc Exam and Other Mathematically Bent Stories by Colin Adams
  3. Number Stories of Long Ago by David Eugene Smith
  4. Imaginary Numbers : An Anthology of Marvelous Mathematical Stories, Diversions, Poems, and Musings by William Frucht (editor)
  5. Shakespeare Predicted it All by Dietmar Dath
  6. Mathe-Matti by Anuradha Mahasinghe
  7. Reality Conditions: short mathematical fiction by Alex Kasman
  8. Gentzen oder: Betrunken aufräumen [Gentzen or Cleaning Up Drunk] by Dietmar Dath
  9. Do Androids Dream of Symmetric Sheaves?: And Other Mathematically Bent Stories by Colin Adams
  10. Schaurige Mathematik by Alexander Mehlmann
Ratings for Intoxicating Heights (Höhenrausch. Die Mathematik des XX. Jahrhunderts in zwanzig Gehirnen):
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:
5/5 (1 votes)
Literary Quality:
5/5 (1 votes)

MotifReal Mathematicians,
TopicMathematical Physics, Real Mathematics,
MediumShort Stories, Collection,

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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)