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Chapter 20 People Lists For this chapter, we have compiled a number of annotated lists of mathematical people: 1. Real mathematicians 2. Female mathematicians 3. Notable math teachers and classroom scenes 4. Wizkids 5. Murderous mathematicians 6. Famous actors being mathematical 7. Math consultants For a comprehensive list of titles and summaries of the relevant movies, check out our MathsMasters website ( We’ll continue to add to that website after this book has appeared. 20.1 Real Mathematicians Real mathematicians seldom appear as characters in movies, and it seems that many of the mathematical greats have never appeared. The following is essentially a complete list.1 Jean d’Alembert appears in Si Versailles M’Était Conté (1954), but he has no speaking lines. Archimedes of Syracuse is one of the most frequently featured mathematicians . He appears in the earliest math movie of which we are aware, Cabiria (1914), in which he performs the usual geometrical construction to burn the usual Roman warships. Incredibly, Archimedes is also the hero of a sword and sandals flick, The Siege of Syracuse (1960), complete with a final climactic fight (which he wins!). In this movie, Archimedes burns not only Roman 1 We have not included Albert Einstein in the list, since he was much more a physicist than a mathematician. And, needless to say, the appearances of this iconic character are too numerous to list. 231 232 20 People Lists warships, but more interestingly the clothing of a bathing beauty. Among Archimedes’ bit roles are his being killed by Roman soldiers in Quest of the Delta Knights (1993) and his Eureka scene (with towel) in Gulliver’s Travels (1996). A much funnier role occurs in Monty Python Live at the Hollywood Bowl (1982), in which Archimedes stars for Greece against Germany in the philosophers’ football match: his Eureka moment comes when he decides to kick the ball. Charles Babbage collaborates with Ada Byron, and his analytical engine features prominently in Conceiving Ada (1997). Benjamin Banneker, a black American mathematician (more astronomer and engineer) from the eighteenth century, is the main character in the TV movie Freedom Man (1989). The movie ends with a very moving voiceover: “My whole life has been a mathematical proof of what a black man can do. I’ve been a clockmaker, a farmer, an astronomer, a surveyor, an almanac writer, a mathematician.—And I add this, and this. And I hope the sum proves something to the World.” Isaac Beeckman, the seventeenth-century Dutch mathematician, appears posting a problem on gravitation in Cartesius (1974). Ada Byron works together with Charles Babbage on the analytical engine in Conceiving Ada (1997). Renato Caccioppoli, one of the founders of geometric measure theory, commits suicide in Death of a Neapolitan Mathematician (1992). Chen Jingrun, the famous Chinese mathematician who worked on the Goldbach conjecture, is the subject of the nine-hour soapie Chen Jingrun (2001). René Descartes is the subject of Roberto Rossellini’s Cartesius (1974). The focus is much more on philosophy than mathematics. One extended scene has Descartes solving a gravitational problem posed by the mathematician Isaac Beeckman. Descartes also makes a brief appearance in Rossellini’s Blaise Pascal (1972) (figure 20.1). Euclid is haunting the AfterMath in the mathematical musical Fermat’s Last Tango (2001). Pierre de Fermat is the vain antihero in the mathematical musical Fermat’s Last Tango (2001). Évariste Galois writes down his mathematical discoveries the night before the duel in Évariste Galois (1965). The last days of Galois are also the subject of an extended animation sequence in 3:19 (2008). Carl Friedrich Gauss haunts the AfterMath in Fermat’s Last Tango (2001). Kurt Gödel makes an appearance as Albert Einstein’s friend in the comedy I.Q. (1994). 20.1 Real Mathematicians 233 Fig. 20.1 Marin Mersenne and Blaise Pascal meet with René Decartes in Blaise Pascal. Hua Luogeng, the famous Chinese mathematician, appears in Chen Jingrun (2001). Hypatia, the first notable female mathematician in history, is the central character of Agora (2009). Ted Kaczynski, the Harvard-trained mathematician and notorious Unabomber , is the subject of Unabomber: The True Story (1996). There is no clear reference to his being a mathematician. Omar Khayyam, the famous Persian mathematician and poet, appears in a number of movies, although usually much more in the role of a poet. An improbable example is Vincent Price playing the role in Son of Sinbad (1955). There are more mathematical references in The...


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