The Parrot's Theorem / Edition 1

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Overview

Mr. Ruche, a Parisian bookseller, receives a bequest from a long lost friend in the Amazon of a vast library of math books, which propels him into a great exploration of the story of mathematics. Meanwhile Max, whose family lives with Mr. Ruche, takes in a voluble parrot who will discuss math with anyone. When Mr. Ruche learns of his friend's mysterious death in a Brazilian rainforest, he decides that with the parrot's help he will use these books to teach Max and his brother and sister the mysteries of Euclid's Elements, Pythagoras's Theorem and the countless other mathematical wonders. But soon it becomes clear that Mr. Ruche has inherited the library for reasons other than enlightenment, and before he knows it the household is racing to prevent the parrot and vital, new theorems from falling into the wrong hands.

An immediate bestseller when first published in France, The Parrot's Theorem charmingly combines a straightforward history of mathematics and a first-rate murder mystery.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Murder mystery meets mathematical history in this pleasantly whimsical but unfocused debut novel, which begins when a Parisian bookseller named Pierre Ruche receives a priceless collection of historical math books from a wartime colleague named Elgar Grosrouvre. Grosrouvre's mathematical treasure is augmented when a precocious, math-savvy parrot is rescued by a young deaf boy named Max Liard after he discovers two men trying to capture and muzzle the bird. Max, who was adopted, lives with Ruche along with his rather flaky mother, Perette, and his older twin brother and sister, who are called Jon-and-Lea. The arrival of the library sends Ruche into a tizzy of mathematical research until he realizes that his friend's desire to bequeath the collection may have stemmed in part from threats to his life. The parrot plays a vital role in the unraveling of the mystery when Ruche discovers that the talking bird has become the verbal repository for Grosrouvre's groundbreaking work on an important mathematical theorem. What follows is an extended attempt to follow his elusive trail. While the concept is brilliant and innovative, this novel is much more a brief history of mathematics than a murder mystery, and despite the author's expertise and tireless enthusiasm for his subject, the math-oriented material often wanders afar. Guedj, a Paris mathematics professor and author of Numbers: The Universal Language, has a definite talent for storytelling, but his charming novel, albeit a bestseller in France, lacks proper balance between mystery and history. (Sept. 1) Forecast: By presenting such challenging subject matter in scattered fashion, Guedj reduces the novel's accessibility and thus the size andscope of his potential U.S. audience. The book was a bestseller in France, but will face more difficulties here. Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Children's Literature
This novel defies classification, refusing to remain assigned to one pigeonhole or another. Which is probably quite fitting, since a large portion of the book's structure attempts to classify the body of knowledge we know as mathematics. The novel is a mystery concerning a letter from an old friend who subsequently dies in a fire, layered over the mysteries of mathematics that have troubled great thinkers since antiquity. The Liard family lives with Mr. Ruche, who owns A Thousand and One Pages, a bookshop. The bookseller receives a letter from an old friend with whom he studied at the Sorbonne. Mr. Ruche studied philosophy while his friend Grosrouvre was immersed in mathematics. As the history of mathematics is reviewed through the text, we learn that philosophy and mathematics are not such divergent subjects. The novel is compelling, and the mathematical explanations are almost without exception crystal clear, causing the reader to see the beauty Grosrouvre enjoyed. The narrative is not without flaw (similar to many of the elegant mathematical proofs published through the years) but it is so unique that it is worthy of the reader's time. In addition to the obvious message concerning the joy of mathematics, subtexts expound upon the joy of intellectual pursuit whatever your age and how surmounting physical handicaps often leads to growth in new directions. 2000, Thomas Dunne Books/St. Martin's Press, Judy Rowen
Kirkus Reviews
A bestseller in France (where the author teaches history of science), Guedj's first fiction is a charmer indeed-a history of mathematics offered up pretty as you please via a handful of likable characters, a mystery-and a talking parrot. At 84 and wheelchair-bound, though nimble in every other way, the kindly Mr. Ruche owns a bookshop in Montmartre, where he lives celibately with Perrette, 44 years his junior, and her three children, the twins Jonathan and Lea and adoptive 12-year-old Max, who is deaf. This is the little family that pulls together with bonds of friendship and love when two things happen: Max saves a parrot from two thugs at a flea market, and Mr. Ruche receives the best private collection of math books in the world, sent from South America by his old college friend Elgar Grosrouvre. Grosrouvre is also 84 but, unlike Mr. Ruche, is facing a catastrophe. For years, he's devoted himself to math, and now he's proved not only Fermat's Last Theorem but also Goldbach's conjecture. Equally astonishing, he hasn't published: instead, he's confided his breakthrough work only to "a loyal friend," partly to keep the theorems from an unnamed enemy-who, next thing Mr. Ruche hears, has apparently burned down Grosrouvre's house and the old man with it. How to find out who it was? What to do? Oblique clues in Grosrouvre's books and letters suggest a trail of meaning, but to make sense of them would mean studying mathematics from Pythagoras on through Fermat-which is just what the little family does, offering readers, howsoever math-impaired they be, a great introductory ride all the way from Thales measuring the Pyramids through the discovery of zero and Archimedes repelling theRomans at Syracuse. Will the mystery be solved? Well, you won't find out about it here. A wonderful little book, cartoonlike, yes, but tender and impassioned-and with a tour of math just as useful for YAs as for Methuselah.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780312303020
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press
  • Publication date: 10/4/2002
  • Edition description: First Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 360
  • Sales rank: 424,105
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.50 (h) x 0.78 (d)

Meet the Author

Denis Guedj is Professor of the History of Science at Paris VIII University. He has spent many years devising courses and games to teach adults and children math. He is the author of Numbers: The Universal Language.

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Reading Group Guide

Mr. Ruche, a Parisian bookseller, receives a bequest from a long lost friend in the Amazon of a vast library of math books, which propels him into a great exploration of the story of mathematics. Meanwhile Max, whose family lives with Mr. Ruche, takes in a voluble parrot who will discuss math with anyone. When Mr. Ruche learns of his friend's mysterious death in a Brazilian rainforest, he decides that with the parrot's help he will use these books to teach Max and his brother and sister the mysteries of Euclid's Elements, Pythagoras's Theorem and the countless other mathematical wonders. But soon it becomes clear that Mr. Ruche has inherited the library for reasons other than enlightenment, and before he knows it the household is racing to prevent the parrot and vital, new theorems from falling into the wrong hands.

An immediate bestseller when first published in France, The Parrot's Theorem charmingly combines a straightforward history of mathematics and a first-rate murder mystery.

Read More Show Less

Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted August 6, 2004

    An interesting history of mathematics

    I picked this book up at the library just to see what it was about. The title sure was interesting enough and from the jacket it sounded intriguing. In the beginning I was hooked, but after that the novel seemed to drag on about the 'maths.' Reading these sections is not a good idea if you are half asleep. However, by the end of the novel, the plot picked up a bit and the closing was quite interesting. (You might remark 'why didn't I think of that?!') This is a good read if you have an interest in math. If math bores you, do not read this book because Pythagorus' theorems along with countless others will put you asleep.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 6, 2003

    Proud to be the first reviewer of this book

    This book can be judged in several lights. As far as a novel goes it is not a high scorer, the plot is unrealistic/amateurish at times . But where he makes up for it is in making mathematical history very interesting. While I read it backpacking Greece I had two authors in mind that he fell between in style : Bill Bryson and John McPhee. It

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