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Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Best mathematics-based graphic novel I have read in at least five years!

Andriopoulos, Thodoris (2010) Who Killed Professor X?  New York:  Birkhauser.

Opening lines:  "Paris, 1900 / The City of Light is getting ready to host one of the most important conferences ever held in the history of mathematics."

Shortly after giving the opening lecture of a worldwide math conference, a famous German mathematician, called Professor X, (no relation to the X-men's mentor) falls over dead in a hotel dining room.  A police inspector is called in and, with the help of a trusted mathematician, begins to try to determine who committed the crime.  One of the difficulties, however, is that the suspects are mathematicians and have given statements that are full of math language.  So the inspector and his assistant must solve the problems to determine the location of each suspect at the moment of the murder.

As the inspector goes through each of the suspects, his assistant, Kurt, fills us in on their backgrounds.  The suspects may sound familiar to you.  We find out about Rene, Blaise, Isaac, Leonhard, Carl Friedrich, Pheidias, and Sophie,  We learn about them and their lives as we consider whether they might have been the murderer.  Working the solution provides another pice of the puzzle necessary for solving the mystery.

I'll admit, having the statements essentially be math problems is a little contrived, and not every single student will latch hold of this book, but for students anywhere from middle school to college who like a good story and a puzzle, this is a great way to connect them to geometry and algebra -- in a way that they won't even notice and will probably enjoy greatly.

I enjoyed the book a great deal.  My sixth grade daughter, who is a bit of a math wiz,did not find the book particularly engaging.  My daughter who is a high school senior (and not particularly interested in math, though she is no slouch) read the whole thing cover to cover.  I have a colleague who is a math prof who is quite excited about it, but so is his wife who is a landscape architect.  So it is hard to predict who will latch onto this book and who won't -- but since those who like it, really like it.  I suggest you buy yourself a copy as soon as you can.

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