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Who Killed Professor X?

Thodoris Andriopoulos
Publication Date: 
Number of Pages: 
[Reviewed by
P. N. Ruane
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Who killed Professor X?

A journey in time…

A crime…

An unexpected finale…

There are comic strip versions of Shakespeare plays and other works of literature, and there are pictorial introductions to the works of great philosophers and scientists. But this seems to be the only book that introduces a range of well-known mathematicians in the style of the old Marvel comics. Its author is a teacher from Thessaloniki who took third prize on a Pan-European competition for his novel methods of teaching mathematics, and this book is testament to the originality of his approach.

Illustrated by Thanasis Gkiaokas, there are sepia representations of paintings and photographs of sixteen famous mathematicians who are suspected of being involved in the murder of Professor X (David Hilbert). Each of the characters also appear in cartoon form and narrative is pictorially embedded in subdued colourful tones adding to the atmosphere of a ‘whodunnit’.

The story begins with Hilbert’s appearance at the 2nd International Conference of Mathematics held in Paris in 1900, and it culminates in 1931 with an account of the work of an eminent German logician. But fourteen of the other mathematicians take turns in being brought back to life to be interviewed by Police Inspector Gerard, who obtains accounst of their mathematical achievements. 

For the purpose of encouraging the mathematical engagement of certain readers (e.g., high school students), there is an ongoing mathematical study of the room in which the murder took place. It consists of applying elementary geometry to the fairly complex layout of the scene of the crime. Competent mathematicians may not be attracted by this, but all readers should enjoy the whimsically compiled biographical vignettes that enabled Inspector Gerard to eliminate all but one of the mathematical suspects from his enquiries. The act of homicide was, of course, purely metaphorical, and we’ll all be grateful that the individual who ‘disposed’ of David Hilbert escaped serious punishment. This book can be read in an hour or two, but it is a delightfully presented heart-warming tale.

Peter Ruane has taught mathematics to people between the ages of 5 and 55 — that is, from basic school arithmetic to transfinite arithmetic.

The Crime.- The Suspects: Mathematicians.- Credits.- Examination of the Statements.