The Simpsons and Their Mathematical Secrets

The Simpsons and Their Mathematical Secrets




This book strives to answer one major mathematical question: Which is greater, my love of The Simpsons or my dislike of math?


The brainy new book by the best-selling author of Fermat’s Enigma a must for anyone interested in numbers and mathematics as well as for the millions of Simpsons fans worldwide.
Simon Singh offers fascinating new insights into the celebrated television series The Simpsons: That the show drip-feeds morsels of number theory into the minds of its viewers – indeed, that there are so many mathematical references in the show, and in its sister program, Futurama, that they could form the basis of an entire university course.
Recounting memorable episodes from “Bart the Genius” to “Homer3,” Singh brings alive intriguing and meaningful mathematical concepts – ranging from the mathematics of pi and the paradox of infinity to the origins of numbers and the most profound outstanding problems that haunt today’s generation of mathematicians. In the process, he illuminates key moments in the history of mathematics, and introduces us to The Simpsons’ brilliant writing team – the likes of David X. Cohen, Al Jean, Jeff Westbrook, and Stewart Burns, all of whom have various advanced degrees in mathematics, physics, and other sciences.
Based on interviews with the writers of The Simpsons and replete with images from the shows, facsimiles of scripts, paintings and drawings, and other imagery, The Simpsons and Their Mathematical Secrets will give anyone who reads it an entirely new mathematical insight into the most successful show in television history.
©2013 Simon Singh (P)2013 Audible, Inc.


“The Simpsons” is arguably the first TV series that was made for the freeze frame era. When the series first came out, it was at a time when VCRs were becoming more and more common in households. Having a VCR, and now a DVR with the ability to pause a show, meant that the writers could include jokes that would only be visible for a second or two and only noticed by those who cared enough to freeze frame them and look.
Given the makeup of the writing staff, as explored in ‘The Simpsons and Their Mathematical Secrets’, it is no surprise that a lot of the jokes have a mathematical theme. However, it would be incorrect to say that it is only these freeze frame gags where “The Simpsons” staff announces their love affair with mathematics. There have been subplots and even entire episodes based around mathematical concepts.
‘The Simpsons and Their Mathematical Secrets’ is an attempt to shine a light on the math of the Simpsons and Futurama universes. Unlike with ‘The Simpsons: An Uncensored, Unauthorized History’, Simon Singh was given access to former and current Simpsons staffers who comment on some of the mathematical concepts found in the series.
Several topics are explored in depth. The most interesting to me are the concepts used in ‘Moneyball’ which were tackled in a Simpsons episode called ‘Money Bart’. Along the way you will also learn how to calculate your Erdős–Bacon number, but you might not be able to do so without thinking “mmm, bacon.”
Singh does his best to bring some pretty heavy concepts down to the level of someone like me who barely passed Algebra II in High School. There are some amazingly big numbers in this book. How big? Well, you’re going to get to know what a Nanillion is for one thing. So attempting to get a handle on some of this might cause a headache. Thankfully, the book comes to your aid with the help of a downloadable PDF which contains several figures to help you along.
‘The Simpsons and Their Mathematical Secrets’ is nothing if not thorough. I am confident that it doesn’t capture all of the mathematical jokes to ever make the air. after all, the series is still ongoing as of this writing. I actually enjoyed some of the “Futurama” chapters a little bit more because I think it was somehow easier to follow some of the concepts through narration alone.


Simon Singh has written several books on science that have a mathematical theme. As best I can determine, this is the first of his books to get produced as an audiobook. I can understand wanting to put out an audiobook because this is a book about “The Simpsons,” but with so many visual references, it is hard for me to argue that audio is the best format in which to consume this book.


William Neenan reads in a professorial tone. There is not a lot of emotion or changes in pitch or inflection. He does not do any impressions of Simpsons characters, which is probably a good thing. If you are one of those people who is a sucker for a British accent, you’ll enjoy Neenan well enough.


There is no music or no sound effects, and it has a clear sounding audio presentation with chapter stops that match up to the book’s actual chapters. None of that is as important as the fact that this book comes with a PDF download containing all of the reference material.
This is perhaps the most important aspect of the book because you are constantly being asked to refer to this figure or chart as the narration goes along. The ability to refer to that material is doubtlessly going to help you understand the material better, unless you are in a situation like me (see conclusion).


Math was never my best or favorite subject in school, though I do have a fondness for a few former math teachers. However, I have been a huge fan of “The Simpsons” since I first saw an episode. Obviously, the target audience for this book are people who enjoy the show and are math fans. But, if you only fit into one category, will you still enjoy this book?
I can’t speak for the fans of math who don’t care for “The Simpsons,” and try to determine what they will or won’t enjoy. If they don’t enjoy “The Simpsons,” then I probably can’t give them TV recommendations either. As someone who is a fan of the show, but who gets confused easily when big numbers are taken to the power of big numbers, I have mixed feelings.
I feel like I learned something about the process of getting these jokes on the air and a little about the writers who specialize in that sort of humor. However, if I were to be tested on the core math, I think I would do even worse than Bart Simpson.
As I am someone who has a visual impairment, the accompanying PDF material is basically of no use to me. Perhaps if that were something that I would actually be able to use, I would understand some of the math a little bit better.
If you are a hardcore fan of “The Simpsons” or “Futurama”, you you will probably want to add this book to your collection. If math really isn’t your thing, you could probably live a contented life without ever giving this a listen. Although, any book that makes me want to watch the ‘Prisoner of Benda’ episode of “Futurama” again can’t be all bad.


Title Author Narrator Publisher Genre Release Date Running Time Score
The Simpsons and Their Mathematical Secrets Simon Singh William Neenan Audible Studios Arts & Entertainment 10/29/2013 7 hours, 13 minutes 6.5/10


A copy of ‘THE SIMPSONS AND THEIR MATHEMATICAL SECRETS’ was purchased from Audible for review.