2004-07-17: The Parrot’s Theorem

The Parrot’s Theorem

A Novel (2000)

by Denis Guedj (1940-2010), tr. Frank Wynne (1962-)

Chris gave me this book, which was written by a Frenchman. She gave it to me before she had finished reading her copy, based on the subject matter. She has since said she won’t do that again. I don’t know if she read it in French.

The subject is mathematics (or the history of mathematics), presented seriously, but in a fictional setting. The seriousness is evident in the fact that it is the only novel I can recall that has an index; and the index is of mathematicians.

The story is of an old man, formerly a philosopher and now a retired bookseller, whose friend sends him the material he has used to (purportedly) prove both Fermat’s Last Theorem and Goldbach’s Conjecture. The old man enlists his neighbor and her children, and a parrot, to try to understand the issues and how they came to him.

The book is interesting, but the story is a little weak, especially the ending. The author’s device of using a mystery as a setting for the threads of mathematical history is unique, and should appeal to those with sufficient curiosity.

The author is professor of History of Science at Paris VIII University.


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