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Literature

Doxiadis’ Compelling ‘Uncle Petros and Goldbach’s Conjecture’

September 22, 2020

As the school year begins, in whatever form it happens to take in these difficult times, books of all genres can be a great source of inspiration for everyone. Uncle Petros and Goldbach’s Conjecture by Apostolos Doxiadis is a compelling novel about one man’s passion for mathematics, and especially his obsession with proving Goldbach’s Conjecture.

Doxiadis captures the reader’s interest from the start with the depiction of a Greek family and the mysterious Uncle Petros, creating a fascinating story weaving together the mathematical themes, the family, and history seamlessly. Even if math was perhaps not your best subject, the well-rounded characters and the absorbing plot will keep you turning pages until the very end.

The book was the first novel that critics described as “mathematical fiction” and Uncle Petros blends the agonized quest for an elusive mathematical truth with the dynamics of a modern Greek family across two generations.

Doxiadis is a bestselling novelist, graphic novelist and scholar. He was born in Brisbane, Australia in 1953, and grew up in Greece. Although interested in fiction and the arts from an early age, a sudden and totally unexpected love affair with mathematics led him to New York’s Columbia University at the age of fifteen. He did graduate work in Applied Mathematics at the École Pratique des Hautes Études in Paris, working on mathematical models for the nervous system.

After his studies, Doxiadis returned to Greece and his old loves of writing, cinema and the theater. For some years he directed and translated for the theater, and in 1983 made his first film Underground Passage (in Greek). His second film, Terirem (1986) won the prize of the International Center for Artistic Cinema (CICAE) at the 1988 Berlin International Film Festival. Doxiadis has also written two plays, the musical shadow puppet play The Tragical History of Jackson Pollock, Abstract Expressionist, accompanied by a volume of texts and images, Paralipomena, and Seventeenth Night, a fictional recreation of the last days in the life of logician Kurt Gödel.

Since the mid-1980s, Doxiadis’ focus has been on fiction. He has published four novels in Greek, Parallel Life (1985), Makavettas (1988), Uncle Petros and Goldbach’s Conjecture (1992) and Three Little Men (1997).

His translation of Uncle Petros was published internationally in 2000 to great critical acclaim and has since been translated into over 40 languages. In autumn 2009, his graphic novel Logicomix co-authored with Christos H. Papadimitriou, with art by Alecos Papadatos and Annie di Donna, was published by Bloomsbury in the U.S. and the UK. The book’s story is based on the epic quest for the foundations of mathematics and has been translated, to date, into over 20 languages. It has received numerous awards, among them the Bertrand Russell Society Award, the Royal Booksellers Association Award (Holland), the Prix Tangente (France), the Premio Carlo Boscarato (Holland), the New Atlantic Booksellers Award (USA). It was a no. 1 New York Times Bestseller and was chosen as Non-Fiction Book of the Year by TIME Magazine, Publishers Weekly, the Washington Post, the Financial Times, Globe and Mail, and other publications.

Apart from his work in the various modes of storytelling, Doxiadis has been working on the study of theoretical aspects of narrative, as well as the relationship of mathematics and narrative. He has published numerous articles on this subject, including recent work on the genesis of mathematical-deductive proof in ancient Greece, as a development of poetic and narrative techniques. A volume on these subjects, Circles Disturbed: The Interplay of Mathematics and Narrative, co-edited with Barry Mazur, was published in 2012 by Princeton University Press.

Doxiadis lives in Athens with his wife, the novelist Dorina Papaliou, and their three children.

Uncle Petros and Goldbach’s Conjecture by Apostolos Doxiadis is available online and wherever books are sold.

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