Geometry in the South Pacific

Sylvia Warner Townsend | published 1927

added Jun 5, 2024
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Excerpt from the novel, "Mr. Fortune's Maggott". Also appeared as a standalone piece in James Newman's "The World of Mathematics", Vol 4.
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Kasman Review
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Summary: An excerpt from a novel which speaks to the beauty of simple mathematics and attempt to convey that sense to a youngster.

Story Tag Line: But often his pleasure flowered from quite simple things that any fool could grasp. For instance he would look out of the bank windows, which had green shades in their lower halves; and rising above the green shades he would see a row of triangles, equilateral, isosceles, acute-angled, right-angled, obtuse-angled. These triangles were a range of dazzling mountain peaks, eternally snowy, eternally un-trodden; and he could feel the keen wind which blew from their summits. Yet they were also a row of triangles, equilateral, isosceles, acute-angled, right-angled, obtuse-angled.


  • Vijay Fafat
    Published on

    This is a story about one Tim Fortune, a former bank clerk who turns to proselytizing as a minister on the island of Fanua. The book has a chapter called “Geometry in the South Pacific” which describes his attempt at showing the beauty of mathematics to a young boy, Lueli. There is a lovely description of the joy he gets thinking about pure mathematics as a distraction from his mundane accounting activity (he terms it “transcendental debauchery”, a delectable pun). The attempt at teaching the elements of Geometry on the beach sand, the frustration of a teacher at the “denseness” of a dull or recalcitrant student, the attempt to use applied math to motivate the said student….they’re all very nicely done. Most of this chapter is also available for online reading in “The World of Mathematics” by Newman.