Guedj, Denis 1940-
GUEDJ, Denis 1940-
Born 1940, in Setif, Algeria.
Office—Université de Paris VIII, rue de la Liberté, 93526 St.-Denis cedex, France.
Université de Paris VIII, Paris, France, professor of the history of science. Writer of fiction and nonfiction. Scriptwriter.
CBCA Book of the Year, 2001, for The Parrot's Theorem.
La révolution des savants, Gallimard (Paris, France), 1987.
La méridienne, Seghers (Paris, France), 1987.
L'empire des nombres, Gallimard (Paris, France), 1996, translation by Lori Frankel published as Numbers: The Universal Language, Thames and Hudson (London, England), 1997.
La gratuité ne vaut plus rien: et autres chroniques mathématiciennes, Le Seuil (Paris, France), 1997.
Le théorème du Perroquet, Le Seuil (Paris, France), 1998, translation by Frank Wynne published as The Parrot's Theorem, St. Martin's/Thomas Dunne (New York, NY), 2001.
Génis, ou, Le bambou parapluie, Le Seuil (Paris, France), 1999.
Le métre du monde, Le Seuil (Paris, France), 2000, translation by Arthur Goldhammer published as The Measure of the World, University of Chicago (Chicago, IL) 2001.
Les cheveux de Bérénice, Le Seuil (Paris, France), 2003.
Denis Guedj, a fiction writer, screen-writer, and math and science scholar, teaches science history at the University of Paris VIII. His many courses and games are designed to help children and adults improve their math skills. Guedj's first book translated into English, Numbers: The Universal Language, is an instructional text for math students and numbers enthusiasts of any age.
Guedj gained international recognition with the publication of his novel The Parrot's Theorem, a fanciful survey of mathematics history. The book, a bestseller in France and named a CBCA Book of the Year, follows the story of kind-hearted, wheelchair-bound Mr. Ruche, a shy French bookstore owner, who inherits from an old friend in the Amazon a complete library of math books. Ruche begins to study math with great interest, delving into the teachings of a wide array of thinkers, from the classic Greeks, such as Archimedes and Pythagoras, to the modern-day master Enrique Fermat. Enter Max, a deaf child living with his dysfunctional family in Ruche's house. While browsing the local flea market, Max adopts a loquacious parrot who loves talking about math above all subjects. Soon, Ruche and the chatty parrot begin to teach Max and his twin brother and sister all about numbers, hashing out Euclid's Elements, Pythagorean Theorem, and much more. Ruche and his young students feel lucky to have received the invaluable library of math books from his missing friend in the Amazon, but it soon becomes clear that the bookseller must keep these important texts from falling into evil clutches; he must learn math and get to the bottom of a murder mystery.
Will Hickman wrote in Booklist that "In its intricate combination of potboiler plot with a profound expression of the sheer wonder of human knowledge, [The Parrot's Theorem] … resembles Umberto Eco's Aristotelian detective story 'The Name of the Rose.'" A Publishers Weekly reviewer was less enthusiastic, commenting that "while the concept is brilliant and innovative, this novel is much more a brief history of mathematics than a murder mystery, and despite the author's expertise … the math-oriented material often wanders afar." Jennifer Riggs wrote in Fiction Focus, "Every library should hold a copy and promote it, especially to math teachers, begging, cajoling or coercing them to explore." Riggs recommended the book for readers aged fifteen and above.
Guedj followed The Parrot's Theorem with the scientific adventure novel The Measure of the World. Set during the French Revolution, the book tells of the origins of the metric system, at a time when more than 700 different units of measure were in chaotic use. According to a Kirkus Reviews writer, Guedj re-creates "with scrupulous detail and passionate attentiveness" the lives of the two scientists appointed to measure the world. Readers follow Pierre Mechain and Jean-Baptiste Delembre as they begin six years of trial, error, and discovery. One scientist begins in Barcelona and heads north to measure; the other begins in Dunkirk and measures south. Stakes heighten as the astronomers climb rocky mountains and towers. Before the metric system is in place, these adventurous scientists will injure themselves, encounter angry mobs, and even spend time in prison. Mary Ellen Quinn wrote in Booklist that, "In the face of so many obstacles, it is amazing that the [astronomers'] work continued at all, but the survey was finally completed in 1799 and formed the basis for the … meter." A reviewer for the Economist praised the book, writing that Guedj "has written a fascinating account of how the metre came into being."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, September 1, 2001, Will Hickman, review of The Parrot's Theorem, and Mary Ellen Quinn, review of The Measure of the World, p. 50.
Economist, July 8, 1989, review of La méridienne, p. 80.
Fiction Focus, Volume 15, No. 2, 2001, Jennifer Briggs, review of The Parrot's Theorem.
Kirkus Reviews, September 1, 2001, review of The Measure of the World, p. 1235.
New Scientist, September 29, 2001, Roy Herbert, "Revolutionary Measures," p. 46.
New Statesman, November 27, 2000, Ziauddin Sardar, review of The Parrot's Theorem, p. 49.
Publishers Weekly, August 6, 2001, review of The Parrot's Theorem.*