1st Edition

The Shape of Content Creative Writing in Mathematics and Science

Edited By Chandler Davis, Marjorie Senechal, Jan Zwicky Copyright 2008
    216 Pages
    by A K Peters/CRC Press

    This book is a collection of creative pieces—poems, short stories, essays, play excerpts—that give shape to mathematical and scientific content. This book portrays by example how various people work creatively with ideas from mathematics and other sciences. Creative writing about the content of mathematics and science is rare, and creative writing about the activity of mathematical and scientific creation is even rarer. And yet, when it occurs, it can be extremely popular, as well known plays like Proof and Copenhagen and biographies like A Beautiful Mind and The Man Who Loved Only Numbers attest. What draws the public to these works? And why, given that something does, are there so few examples of literature that engages these themes? Mathematics and science are part of world culture, part of the human spirit, fit subjects for art of all kinds.




    Marco Abate (metafiction)

    Évariste and Hélöise

    Colin Adams (humor essay)

    Robbins v. New York

    Madhur Anand (poem)

    Dissecting Daisy

    Sandy Bonny (short story)


    Wendy Brandts (prose poem)


    S. Isabel Burgess (poems and prose poems)

    Active Pass

    Magic Stretch Glove

    Tyndall Field


    There’s something I need to say to you...

    Robin Chapman (poems)

    Praying to the God of Leavetakings

    Brave New Biosphere

    The All of It


    Chandler Davis (poems)


    Our Study


    Cold Comfort

    Florin Diacu (nonfiction)

    The Birth of Celestial Mechanics

    Adam Dickinson (poems)

    The Ghosts of Departed Quantities


    Contributions to Geometry

    Great Chain of Being

    Susan Elmslie (poems)



    Claire Ferguson (essays)

    Eine Kleine Rock Musik III

    Wild Singular Torus

    Igusa Conjecture

    Emily Grosholz (poems)


    Trying to Describe the Reals in Cambridge

    Lauren Gunderson (short story)

    The Ascending Life

    Philip Holmes (poem sequence)

    The Lines Remake the Places


    Alex Kasman (short story)

    On the Quantum Theoretic Implications of Newton’s Alchemy

    Ellen Maddow (drama)

    Delicious Rivers

    Marjorie Wikler Senechal (nonfiction)

    The Last Second Wrangler

    Manil Suri (short story)

    The Tolman Trick

    Randall Wedin (nonfiction)

    Breaking Down the Barriers

    Paul Zimet (drama)

    Star Messengers

    Biographical Notes


    Chandler Davis, Majorie Senechal, Jan Zwicky

    The works collected in The Shape of Content vary incredibly in style and tone. Twenty-one authors contributed thirty-seven pieces to the book, including short stories, poems, and excerpts from dramatic pieces. The reader knows they are in for a wild ride when the first two entries in the book are a piece of metafiction by Marco Abate about exploring Evariste Galois's life and a humor piece by Colin Adams about a mathematical case before the Supreme Court.
    —Darren Glass, MAA Reviews, February 2009

    [This book explores] the connection between mathematics and literature. That there is such a connection is not widely acknowledged . . . The topic deserves a more careful treatment than that and [this book goes] a long way towards filling that role.
    —Keith Johnson, CMS Notes, May 2009

    The Shape of Content is an admirable exercise in the fusion of left and right brain capacities and is a strong beginning for more work in this vein.
    —Erin Carmody, Association for Women in Mathematics Newsletter, November 2009

    At times, because some of the pieces are not presented in their complete form or have not been completed, the reader is left wanting more. Generally, however, the pieces are well written, entertaining, and, in many cases, instructive, inspired examples of how to express mathematical and scientific ideas and thoughts in creative ways. Mathematicians, scientists, educators, students of mathematics and science, and writers might all be interested in adding this book to their personal library.
    —Kelly Edenfield, Mathematics Teacher, November 2009

    No one reading this book can fail to be impressed by the depth of interpenetration between the mathematical and the worldly, and how permeable the boundaries between them can be. ... With 37 different pieces by 21 authors, The Shape of Content is a testament to the dazzling diversity of artistic possibilities around the common theme of mathematics.
    —Amir Alexander, American Mathematical Monthly, January 2010

    It is often said that the divide between poetry and mathematics lies in the disjunct between the rational and the romantic. On Feb. 25, these two disparities came together during the launch of The Shape of Content, a book comprised of drama, short fiction, critical essays and poetry that are all, in some way, relevant to science and mathematics. —Martlet, March 2010

    This remarkable book collects some interesting creative writing of 21 authors (young poets, writers, mathematicians, geologists, and philosophers... The book gives many opportunities to think about and discuss scientific works, their difficulties and their roles in our society, to learn why some people do science, to encourage young people into science, and to criticise the current situation and system.
    EMS Newsletter, March 2009

    ...The content given shape here goes beyond mathematics and science to the intertwining of mathematical and scientific professional involvement, creative activity and the personal connections in which these are embedded. ... This may be the ultimate value of this volume: the humanity of science and mathematics that it may convey to the non-scientific, non-mathematical reader. ... If The Shape of Content inspired this reviewer to err in the direction of verbosity, here is the short version. This book is an enjoyable, readable collection of well-crafted pieces. Read it. Share it. Perhaps, as the editors suggest in their Introduction, you ‘will become the writers and editors of its sequels’.
    —Douglas Norton, Journal of Mathematics and the Arts, June 2010

    One contribution is called 'The Birth of Celestial Mechanics' about Isaac Newton; a short biography and a dignified tribute to his achievements in the world of mathematics and physics. This text is a real treat. And there are quite a few others in this book which are on a par with this one.
    —J. Lang, Internationale Mathematische Nachrichten, April 2010