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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

The French Mathematician

Tom Petsinis

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To purchase The French Mathematician

Title: The French Mathematician
Author: Tom Petsinis
Genre: Novel
Written: 1997
Length: 422 pages
Availability: The French Mathematician - US
The French Mathematician - UK
The French Mathematician - Canada
Der französische Mathematiker - Deutschland
  • "This novel arose from an earlier project that was submitted for a Master of Arts degree titled A Fictional Biography of the French Mathematician Evariste Galois 1811-1832."

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Our Assessment:

B : decent novel, great material

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Australian Book Review . 10/1997 James Bradley

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The complete review's Review:

       The life of Évariste Galois (1811-1832) makes marvelous material for a work of fiction. A true genius he was also a tragic hero, foolishly getting himself killed in a duel at an absurdly young age.
       Tom Petsinis' novel has Galois tell his own story, a first person account of a wild, number-obsessed life that ended in tragedy.
       It begins cleverly enough, with chapter 0, where Galois sees himself "reduced to a singular point; in an instant I am transformed to i", as elusive as that imaginary number, but ever-present throughout the text.
       Petsinis recounts Galois' difficult life. An outsider, he fell completely in the thrall of the magic world of mathematics. He was also preternaturally gifted, publishing his first paper while still a schoolboy.
       Arrogance and circumstances prevented him from following a path that would have allowed him to use his gifts -- starting with attending the Polytechnic. Instead his outsider status was constantly reinforced. Eventually he turned to politics, the unsettled late 1820s and early 1830s being nearly as heated and dangerous as the earlier Revolutionary times. He gets himself jailed, and in all sorts of other difficulties.
       Only when death is imminent, with Galois agreeing to a duel he can not hope to survive, does he return to his passion, madly writing down his mathematical discoveries -- discoveries that will, in fact, be of great significance to future mathematicians.
       Petsinis writes a fairly fast-paced novel, with a great deal of flare. The historical period is a fascinating one, and Petsinis uses it well. His Galois is perhaps a bit too wildly imagined -- imagining conversations with Pascal, feverishly indulging in his passions. The dialogue -- and much of the description -- is also a bit rich, Petsinis not quite able to rein in his poet-instincts.
       Petsinis also gets carried away with the literary aspect of the novel. "Can you hear my thoughts, future biographer ?" his Galois asks.

I know you are here, in the dark. I can almost feel your presence, like this strip of moonlight on my forehead.
       The fictional biographer's presence is, indeed, a bit too strong throughout (and Galois returns to him a bit too often). Nevertheless, the real story is a fundamentally good story, and Petsinis does quite well with it. He romanticizes both Galois and mathematics too much, but it is a decent historical novel.

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The French Mathematician: Reviews: Évariste Galois: Other books of interest under review:
  • See the Index of Australian literature at the complete review
  • See Index of books dealing with Mathematics

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About the Author:

       Australian author Tom Petsinis was born in 1953. He has written novels, poetry and plays.

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