Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Who Killed Professor X?

This book has nothing to do with the X-Men, but it is one of a rare breed: a graphic novel about mathematics that actually engages in substantive mathematical thinking. Who Killed Professor X? is a mystery where the titular professor is murdered and the investigation into his death involves a good number of suspects. All of the suspects are based on historical figures like Isaac Newton, René Descartes, Pierre de Fermat, Marie-Sophie Germain, Pheidias, and Blaise Pascal. And as the investigators meet each figure, they learn about their lives and theories, lending some insight into mathematical concepts and breakthroughs.
Adding to the intrigue, each suspect gave their statement to the police in the form of a mathematics puzzle or equation, so the trick becomes to solve that puzzle to determine whether or not they could have been close enough to murder the good professor and escape unnoticed.
The author states that this book can work for those with some math knowledge and others who have none, and I have to agree. The solutions are in the back of the book, much like in a typical math textbook, as are pictures of the actual historical figures. As the book progressed, the puzzles got more difficult and I could not solve all of them on my own, so I appreciated reading the solutions.  Although reading them was helpful and informative, I also got a lot out of the historical narratives where I learned a bunch about each person. Those narrative made the characters and their motives intriguing, so instead of this set-up seeming gimmicky, I found myself interested in solving the puzzle in each chapter. I also thought it was very clever how each person's biography played into their potential motives for murdering Professor X.

This book was written by author/educator Thodoris Andriopoulos and drawn by Thanasis Gkiokas. It was originally published in Greek, and it was based on an educational video game. Andriopoulos speaks more about his work on this book in this interview.

Almost all of the reviews I have read about this book have come from mathematics publications, and they have been pretty positive. Peter Ruane declared it "a delightfully presented heart-warming tale." Paul Dabraski opined that it was not the most polished book he's ever read but called it "a fun way to test your brain." Adhemar Bultheel gushed that "it is safe to say that anybody will love the book."

Who Killed Professor X? was published by Springer, and they have more info about it here. There is a video preview of the book available here.

No comments:

Post a Comment