The world of The Forty-seven Words of the Broken Girl is entirely fictional. However, that doesn’t mean I haven’t done research to give Jinxx’s “Earth” a sense of place and coherency. Outside of the copious on-line research I do, the following books were critical to giving me both factual information and story ideas.
The Pursuit of Glory Five Revolutions that Made Modern Europe: 1648–1815 by Tim Blanning. The only other work of history I’ve enjoyed as much is Taylor Branch’s heartbreaking and hopeful history of the civil rights movement, Parting the Waters America in the King years: 1954–63. Blanning is a master writer who provides deep insights into the major changes in Europe between the Thirty Years’ War and the Battle of Waterloo. He constantly surprises with how fundamental changes in things moderns take for granted—such as transportation—radically altered life for the people of the time. This should be the model for any one attempting a single book overview of a historical epoch.
The French Revolution A History by Thomas Carlyle. This was long the authoritative English-language books on the French Revolution. While I would hesitate to call any book written about such a massive historical event as singularly authoritative, this is a solid book on the subject (French historians can debate if Carlyle is unduly biased as an Englishman writing at a time when the French were a competing great power; I lack the foundations to do so). Carlyle’s prose is both archaic and beautiful.
Frightful to all men is Death; from of old named King of Terrors. Our little compact home of an Existence, where we dwelt complaining, yet as in a shame, is passing, in dark agonies, into an Unknown of Separation, Foreignness, unconditioned Possibility. The Heathen Emperor asks his soul: Into what places are though now departing? (p17)
Try to imagine any contemporary historian writing such prose!
The Days of the French Revolution by Christopher Hibbert. While lacking in Carlyle’s prose and Blanning’s unexpected insights, Hibbert offers a quick moving summary of the Revolution. He has kept the original French when translations are approximate, giving an appendix to offer fuller definitions, which is quite useful when dealing with a term as rich with meaning as “sans-culottes.” Transliterated, sans-culottes means without breeches, but a complete explanation of the term requires almost an entire page.
God Created the Integers by Stephen Hawking. This is a massive book (over 1300 pages excluding the appendix) covering the lives and mathematical achievements of the worlds greatest mathematicians and scientists, from Euclid to Turing. Most of the math in the book is beyond my casual consumption and much of the math I can follow at all requires considerable effort and concentration. However, even for someone with my non-math-major skills will still find much to enjoy here. Hawking’s biographies are informative and engaging, while his descriptions of each person’s accomplishments don’t require any knowledge of math beyond a basic curiosity.
For me, this was vital in establishing the state of the mathematical art circa the French Revolution and ensuring I had enough knowledge to credibly present Jinxx as a math genius on par with the individuals Hawking presents.
The Mathematical Experience by Philip J. Davis and Reuben Hersh. This is a book that makes mathematicians. Like Douglas Hofstadter’s Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid, The Mathematical Experience is a book that curious teens discover with joy and a sense of kinship before finding themselves signing up for the math classes their peers view as too hard or just boring. While not as directly useful for my research, this is a book anyone interested in math as a field should pick up.
This section is coming soon.
Carl Friedrich Gauss
At the age of seven, Gauss (1777–1855) was in a class turning unruly. His teacher, J. G. Büttner, decided to calm the class by having the students add up all the numbers from one to one-hundred. Gauss answered the question almost immediately: 5,050. Once one learns his solution, it’s so obvious as to seem intuitive, but perhaps nobody else would have realized so quickly that 1+100=101, 2+99=101,…. Thus began the true education of the man Stephen Hawking calls “unquestionably the greatest mathematician of all time.”