One of the outstanding voices of his generation, David Foster Wallace has won a large and devoted following for the intellectual ambition and bravura style of his fiction and essays. Now he brings his considerable talents to the history of one of math's most enduring puzzles: the seemingly paradoxical nature of infinity. Is infinity a valid ...
One of the outstanding voices of his generation, David Foster Wallace has won a large and devoted following for the intellectual ambition and bravura style of his fiction and essays. Now he brings his considerable talents to the history of one of math's most enduring puzzles: the seemingly paradoxical nature of infinity. Is infinity a valid mathematical property or a meaningless abstraction? The nineteenth-century mathematical genius Georg Cantor's answer to this question not only surprised him but also shook the very foundations upon which math had been built. Cantor's counterintuitive discovery of a progression of larger and larger infinities created controversy in his time and may have hastened his mental breakdown, but it also helped lead to the development of set theory, analytic philosophy, and even computer technology. Smart, challenging, and thoroughly rewarding, Wallace's tour de force brings immediate and high-profile recognition to the bizarre and fascinating world of higher mathematics.
DF Wallace blows the lid off of everything we (laymen) thought we knew. The care and feeding that he provided to get into the heart of infinity issues was most commendable. A must read for anyone interested in hyperspace.
Jan 22, 2009
For the Mathematically inclined,or curious
This book is unique in my experience. David Foster Wallace,known best for his novels, was educated as a mathematician. In this book he addresses and explains,in an informal, easy-rolling,innovating style, one of the most confounding of mathematical concepts,that of infinity. Beginning with basic concepts he progresses to reveal the meaning and explain the work of Georg Cantor and transfinite numbers. If you have a taste for popularized science and a curiousity about sophisticated mathematics,you might enjoy thi book. I certainly did.
Publishers Weekly, 2003-10-13 The subject of infinity would probably strike most readers familiar with Wallace as perfectly suited to his recursive style, and this book is as weird and wonderful as you'd expect. There are footnotes galore, frequently prefaced by the acronym IYI ("If You're Interested"), which can signal either pure digression or the first hint of an idea more fully developed in later chapters. Among other textual idiosyncrasies is the constant use of the lemniscate instead of the word "infinity," emphasizing that this is "not just an incredibly, unbelievably enormous number" but an abstraction beyond what we normally conceive of when we contemplate numbers. Abstraction is one of Wallace's main themes, particularly how the mathematics of infinity goes squarely against our instinct to avoid abstract thought. The ancient Greeks couldn't handle infinity, he points out, because they loathed abstraction. Later mathematicians fared better, and though the emphasis is on Georg Cantor, all the milestones are treated in turn. Wallace appreciates that infinity can be a "skullclutcher," and though the book isn't exactly easy going, he guides readers through the math gently, including emergency glossaries when necessary. He has an obvious enthusiasm for the subject, inspired by a high school teacher whose presence is felt at irregular intervals. Had he not pursued a career in literary fiction, it's not difficult to imagine Wallace as a historian of science, producing quirky and challenging volumes such as this every few years. (Oct.) FYI: This title, along with Sherwin Nuland's The Doctor's Plague, is launching James Atlas's Great Discoveries series for Norton. Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
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