Book title: The Wild Numbers [0]*
Author: Philibert Schogt
Posted January 15, 2003

This is a funny little novel about a mathematician. Isaac Swift is a young professor, but he's mediocre. He's a decent mathematician and teacher, but doesn't really excel at anything. Isaac is in a relatively high powered department, with both famous old guys and up and coming new guys (yes, they're all male -- the only female professor in the book is also pretty mediocre) who have published in the most prestigious math journals. But Isaac hasn't published much, and he's starting to worry about his future. He was something of a child prodigy, although it seems that he used the cool abstractions of math to distance himself from the messy reality of his parents' unhappy marriage (and their ultimate divorce). He was recently dumped by his live-in girlfriend of two years who didn't understand his near-spiritual interest in math.

Then he makes the discovery of a lifetime. He solves the Wild Number Problem. The problem is obviously fictional, but serves to drive the plot well enough. Add in some wacky characters (a professor who was imprisoned by the Soviets in his native country, a philandering former student, a wealthy best friend, and a sociopathic student), and you have an interesting set of people in a fairly bland set of circumstances.

The problem is that Schogt doesn't do enough with these characters. They aren't very well-drawn and aren't given enough to do. The focus of the book is on Isaac, and I can't decide whether I like him or not. I really identified with his circumstances, however, which caused me to like the book more than I think it really deserves. The plot is not cliched, and the prose has a quite style that is quite engaging.

In trying to rate this book, I've come up with everything from "genius" to "pure crap" with excellent reasons for both ends of the spectrum. So I've settled on "good" but that doesn't quite suit it either. I thought ambivalent and confused comments were better than none at all, so here we are.

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