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A Certain Ambiguity:
A Mathematical Novel
Gaurav Suri & Hartosh Singh Bal
With a new foreword by Keith Devlin

Winner of the 2007 Award for Best Professional/Scholarly Book in Mathematics, Association of American Publishers

Paperback | 2010 | $16.95 | £14.95 | ISBN: 9780691146010
296 pp. | 6 x 9 1/4 | 56 line illus. 4 tables.
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eBook | ISBN: 9781400834778 |
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While taking a class on infinity at Stanford in the late 1980s, Ravi Kapoor discovers that he is confronting the same mathematical and philosophical dilemmas that his mathematician grandfather had faced many decades earlier--and that had landed him in jail. Charged under an obscure blasphemy law in a small New Jersey town in 1919, Vijay Sahni is challenged by a skeptical judge to defend his belief that the certainty of mathematics can be extended to all human knowledge--including religion. Together, the two men discover the power--and the fallibility--of what has long been considered the pinnacle of human certainty, Euclidean geometry.

As grandfather and grandson struggle with the question of whether there can ever be absolute certainty in mathematics or life, they are forced to reconsider their fundamental beliefs and choices. Their stories hinge on their explorations of parallel developments in the study of geometry and infinity--and the mathematics throughout is as rigorous and fascinating as the narrative and characters are compelling and complex.

Moving and enlightening, A Certain Ambiguity is a story about what it means to face the extent--and the limits--of human knowledge.


"The joy that accompanies [Suri and Bal's] early excursions into proof will buoy up a floundering newcomer, while allowing old hands to recall the thrill of meeting the ideas for the first time."--Katherine Körner, Nature

"Good stories need rich characters that we care about, not mathematical theorems, however fascinating. So a work of fiction subtitled A mathematical novel makes you fear that it may only expose the tremendous difficulty of blending science and logic with the emotion and dramatic tension required of good literature. Fortunately, in this case that fear is misplaced, because A Certain Ambiguity succeeds both as a compelling novel and as an intellectual tour through some startling mathematical ideas.... A Certain Ambiguity is a brilliant and unusual novel."--New Scientist

"Here is a book that succeeds both as fiction and nonfiction. . . . The book sweeps up those who are sensitive to the intellectual adventure of mathematics. It accurately portrays the attraction and enjoyment that are to be found in the play of ideas. I recommend it highly to all those who have an interest in mathematics."--William Byars, SIAM Review

"In the delightful, yet deep tradition of Lewis Carroll, Martin Gardner, A.K. Dewdney, and Marco Abate comes A Certain Ambiguity by Gaurav Suri and Hartosh Singh Bal...There is no doubt that Suri and Bal have set a difficult goal for themselves and have succeeded in making difficult mathematical ideas accessible...[W]hat makes the work of Suri and Bal a fine example of this tradition is what makes any successful and more traditional novel work--rich and warm characterization, an interesting plot, and a conclusion that illustrates the equal proportions of ingredients of certainty, ambiguity, frustration, and joy in the proof of our human-ness."--Gurunandan R. Bhat, The Financial Express

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Table of Contents:

Foreward vii
Chapter 1 1
Chapter 2 32
Chapter 3 63
Chapter 4 103
Chapter 5 129
Chapter 6 182
Chapter 7 225
Chapter 8 246
Notes 243

Subject Areas:


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