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Everything and More: A Compact History of Infinity

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 6, 2003

    the bland leading the blind

    A Review of David Foster Wallace's 'Everything and More: A Compact History of {infinity}' Is this book merely an instance of the bland leading the blind? It may be more perilous than that, since readers with a genuine but uncultivated interest in the subjects which the book purports to address---roughly, the concept of 'infinity' in mathematics---may be more than merely mislead by Wallace's rambling, irreverent romp through soundbytes from the undergraduate math curriculum: they may be soured on the subjects themselves. The first---and cardinal---error committed by Wallace is his presentational style. His mistake is one that could only be committed but one who either lacked comprehension of the math behind the pop-sci summaries, or else was so contemptuous of those results that a sincere attempt to communicate the underlying ideas seemed superflous. Bluntly put, the first thing any prospective initiate into the world of mathematical thought must do is free himself from the need to accomodate one's thinking, reasoning---and indeed, presentational style---to the comfortable glibness prized in everyday discourse (and apparently, in certain long-winded works of fiction). Wallace probably believes that by adhering to a populist style, he will attract more readers to his subject. This may be true, but in so doing, he has marred the beauty of that subject so hopelessly beyond recognition that sincere readers will find little of value in his presentation. The book is not only not recommended, it is recommended to be avoided.

    3 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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