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The Parrot's Theorem

A Novel

Denis Guedj; Translated by Frank Wynne

St. Martin's Griffin

The Parrot's Theorem Download image

ISBN10: 0312303025
ISBN13: 9780312303020

Trade Paperback

360 Pages


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When Mr. Ruche, a reclusive Parisian bookseller, receives a letter from a lon- lost friend in the Amazon bequeathing him a vast library of mathematical books, he is propelled into a great exploration of the story of math, from brilliant Greek thinkers, such as Archimedes and Pythagoras, to the modern-day genius Fermat. Meanwhile Max, a deaf boy whose dysfunctional family lives with Mr. Ruche, finds a voluble parrot in a local fleamarket. He turns out to be a bird who will discuss math with anyone who will listen. So when Mr. Ruche learns of his friend's mysterious death in the rainforests of Brazil he decides that with the parrot's help he will use the library to teach Max and his twin brother and sister the mysteries of Euclid's Elements, Pythagoras' Theorem and the countless other wonders of numbers and shapes. But soon it becomes clear that Mr. Ruche has inherited the library for reasons other than pure enlightenment, and before he knows it the household are caught up in a race to prevent vital theorems from falling into the wrong hands.

A number-one bestseller in France, where it was hailed as "a beautiful book glorying in the great adventures of the human mind" (Le Point), The Parrot's Theorem is an enchanting novel which takes the reader on an instructive journey through the history of mathematics.

A reader's guide to The Parrot's Theorem can be found at


Praise for The Parrot's Theorem

"A genuine insight into the wonder of numbers."—Simon Singh, author of Fermat's Enigma

"The Parrot's Theorem is a unique book, in that it is both a wonderful novel and the best short history of mathematics I have ever read. The author draws his characters with care, develops an intriguing plot, and on the way teaches the reader about mathematics and its history. This is one of the most satisfying books I have read in a long time."—Amir Aczel, author of Fermat's Last Theorem

"A charmer indeed . . . A wonderful little book . . . tender and impassioned."—Kirkus Reviews (starred)

"A richly textured narrative [that] half way through, turns into an uncut diamond, polished to a brilliant shine towards the end."—The Independent (London)

"Guedj has demonstrated, with the virtuosity of a Pascal or a Euclid, that the European novel of ideas need be neither desiccated nor dull."—The Sunday Telegraph (London)

"What a delightful book! It's about Sidney, an incredible parrot whose greatest pleasure is to teach algebra and geometry to young people. If you want to learn a lot of mathematics in a short time, you should definitely read The Parrot's Theorem."—Professor Robert S. Banks, author of Slicing Pizzas, Racing Turtles, and Towering Icebergs, Falling Dominoes

"Whimsy is not a word commonly associated with theoretical mathematics, yet Guedj's story of three children's journey through the history of numerical reasoning brings to this doggedly academic material a childlike sense of playfulness and adventure. Guided by an enigmatic neighbor, Mr. Ruche, and a garrulous parrot named Sidney, young Max Laird and his two siblings discover the inner life and beauty of theorems and formulas. Framing their discoveries is an unfolding mystery involving Sidney, a set of brilliant new theorems, and a master thief. In its intricate combination of potboiler plot with a profound expression of the sheer wonder of human knowledge, the novel resembles Umberto Eco's Aristotelean detective story The Name of the Rose. Guedj, however, writes with the optimistic wisdom of a fondly remembered childhood teacher, far removed from Eco's dark vision. For readers whose schooling in these subjects is nearly forgotten, it may provide a glimpse of another path, a world left unexplored."—Will Hickman, Booklist

Reviews from Goodreads

About the author

Denis Guedj; Translated by Frank Wynne

Denis Guedj is Professor of the History of Science at Paris VIII University. He has spent many years devising courses and games to teach adults and children math. He is the author of Numbers: The Universal Language.