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Maths boring?  Never!  Here are some books and movies that illustrate the dramatic (and even comic) potential of a story that revolves around mathematics and computing - and the profound influence some clever, if sometimes eccentric, people have had on modern life.  

Maths at the Movies:
Hidden Figures – A wonderful film about three mathematicians – who happen to be black and female - working at NASA in the early 60s at the dawn of the digital computing age.  Watch it and reflect on how much the world has changed.   The movie was inspired by a book by Margot Lee Shetterly, that I have just read on Randy Bozarth's recommendation.  Clearly the movie has taken some dramatic license and condensed the time frame, emphasizing the space race, rather than the years of aeronautical research supported by human computers that preceeded it.  The book also gives you much more of the political and social context.  The movie is still wonderful.
 
The Man Who Knew Infinity (2015) – biopic of self-taught Indian mathematician Ramanujan who went to Cambridge University in the 1910’s.  I haven’t seen this yet, but David Alexander says its very good.  Based on the book of the same title by Robert Kanigel.
 
The Imitation Game (2014) – The story of Alan Turing and his colleagues who famously cracked the Enigma code, working in top secret in WWII.

A Beautiful Mind  (2001) –John Forbes Nash Jr won a Nobel prize in economics for his work on game theory, despite suffering from mental illness much of his adult life.  Read the source book by Silvia Nasar if you want the unvarnished version.
 
Moneyball  (2011) - How do you pick the perfect baseball team?  I know of at least two GRTMPS users trying to write models to choose their fantasy football team and it may well have been inspired by seeing this.  I suspect they should read the book by Michael Lewis as I don't remember their being much detail on the method in the film.
 
21 (2008) - Gambling is all about probability and this movie is all about card counting.  Based on the real-life exploits of some MIT graduate students who used the math to make some money.  (There is also a nice bit about card counting in Rain Man)
 
The Dish (2000) - A comedy based on the true story of the unexpected contribution of a small town in Australia to the success of the Apollo Moon landing. 
 
Books: Non-Fiction
The Man Who Loved Only Numbers by Paul Hoffman (1998) - a biography of the itinerate mathematician Paul Erdos (1913-1996) who was probably the most prolific collaborator of all time.  Anyone who published a paper with him, has an “Erdos Number” of 1 – if you published with that person, your “Erdos Number” is 2, and so forth. 

The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable  by Nassim Nicholas Taleb (2007) - economics and finance, rather than engineering -  recommended to me by Gordon Perrera.  I read it a couple of years ago and will never look at the stock market the same way again.
 
Longitude by Dava Sobel – the story of how an 18th clock maker named John Harrison solved the rather vital navigational problem of calculating your position at sea. 
 
A Mathematician's Apology by G. H. Hardy - Martin Fieldhouse was reminded of reading this book as a student in the 1970's,  on seeing that there is a film about Ramanujan, as Hardy was Ramanujan's supervisor.  This auto-biographical and philisophical essay was published in 1940 when Hardy was near the end of his career, but is still in print - there is even a study guide.  
 
Tubes: Behind the Scenes at the Internet by Andrew Blum - with WiFi it's easy to get the impression that the internet is some sort of disembodied all-pervasive ether - but it of course is firmly grounded in physical infrastructure.  The author guides you through his quest to find the "real" internet.  This one is not really either dramatic or comic - but it IS very interesting, if you like knowing how things work.
 
Books: Fiction
The Three-Body Problem by Liu Cixin - Eric Jwo recommends this "science-fiction Chinese novel that has a good translation in English and covers many mathematical and computational concepts such as the titular three body problem".   First of a three-parter and you can "read for free" if you have Kindle Unlimited.
 
Cryptonomicom by Neil Stephenson:   WWII code breaking, Turing, encryption, cyber security, and clever tricks for sending messages with playing cards all feature in this thriller. (I can bring my copy to the next conference if anyone wants to borrow it.)

The Algebraist by Iain M. Banks:   Space-opera style sci-fi about the pursuit of a solution to a complex equation.
 
Pyramids by Terry Pratchett.  The world is a disc balanced on the backs of four elephants who stand on the turtle Great A'Tuin and the greatest mathematician alive is………    not what you would expect.  LOL stuff.

Have I missed something good?   Recommendations for further reading / watching very welcome. 

From Kathy's Desk Hotel Room 17th September 2017

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