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Everything and More: A Compact History of Infinity
     

Everything and More: A Compact History of Infinity

3.8 8
by David Foster Wallace
 

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California novelist and essayist Wallace contributes to the series of popular technical writing by examining a set of mathematical achievements that he finds to be extremely abstract and technical but also extremely profound, interesting, and beautiful. He writes for readers who have no technical background, and includes sections—clearly marked—for those who

Overview

California novelist and essayist Wallace contributes to the series of popular technical writing by examining a set of mathematical achievements that he finds to be extremely abstract and technical but also extremely profound, interesting, and beautiful. He writes for readers who have no technical background, and includes sections—clearly marked—for those who do. He has not indexed his work. Annotation © 2004 Book News, Inc., Portland, OR

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
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.
Library Journal
Wallace's writing about math isn't new-his novel Infinite Jest (1996) and some of his essays include a more than superficial treatment of the subject. Here, however, he digs as deeply into it as is possible for a nonprofessional math geek faced with a page limit, and the result is classic DFW: engaging, self-conscious, playful, and often breathless. This second installment in the "Great Discoveries" series traces the history of infinity from the Greeks to the calculus, culminating in a discussion of Georg Cantor's (1845-1918) groundbreaking work with transfinite numbers. Unfortunately, context requires Wallace to bulldoze heroically through a couple thousand years of logic, geometry, and number theory, which, even with "emergency glossaries" and frequent cross-referencing tips, can make for some teeth-grindingly dense passages. In one of the 400-plus footnotes, he writes, "It's true that it would be nice if you've had some college math, but please rest assured that considerable pains have been taken and infelicities permitted to make sure it's not required." For devout Wallace fans, it won't matter either way. Readers looking to soak up some pure abstraction, however, may just need to read the book twice. Luckily, they couldn't have been blessed with a more talented or stimulating guide. Enthusiastically recommended for all libraries. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 6/15/03.]-Christopher Tinney, Brooklyn, NY Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Boston Globe
Everything and More is, in nearly every way, a gift. It's a thoughtful and witty 300-page testimonial to the qualities I never fully understood that mathematics possessed: Math is astonishing and full of 'shadowlands,' and-ultimately-stunning beauty.— Anthony Doerr
Village Voice
Wallace is the perfect parachute buddy for a free fall into the mathematical and metaphysical abyss that is infinity.— Dennis Lim
American Scholar
[Wallace] brings to his task a refreshingly conversational style as well as a surprisingly authoritative command of mathematics. . . . A success.— John Allen Paulos
Anthony Doerr - Boston Globe
“ Everything and More is, in nearly every way, a gift. It's a thoughtful and witty 300-page testimonial to the qualities I never fully understood that mathematics possessed: Math is astonishing and full of 'shadowlands,' and-ultimately-stunning beauty.”
Dennis Lim - Village Voice
“Wallace is the perfect parachute buddy for a free fall into the mathematical and metaphysical abyss that is infinity.”
John Allen Paulos - American Scholar
“[Wallace] brings to his task a refreshingly conversational style as well as a surprisingly authoritative command of mathematics. . . . A success.”
New York Times Book Review
“A gripping guide to the modern taming of the infinite.”
John Allen Paulos - The American Scholar
“[Wallace] brings to his task a refreshingly conversational style as well as a surprisingly authoritative command of mathematics....A success.”
Booklist
“Shockingly readable....A brilliant antidote both to boring math textbooks and to pop-culture math books that emphasize the discoverer over the discovery.”
Anthony Doerr
“Everything and More is, in nearly every way, a gift. It's a thoughtful and witty 300-page testimonial to the qualities I never fully understood that mathematics possessed: Math is astonishing and full of 'shadowlands,' and—ultimately—stunning beauty.”

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780393326291
Publisher:
Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
Publication date:
11/28/2004
Series:
Great Discoveries Series
Pages:
344
Product dimensions:
5.40(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.90(d)

Meet the Author

David Foster Wallace (1962-2008) is the author of Infinite Jest, Girl with Curious Hair, Everything and More, The Broom of the System, and other fiction and nonfiction. Among his honors, he received a MacArthur Foundation Fellowship, a Lannan Literary Award, and a Whiting Writers' Award.

Brief Biography

Date of Birth:
February 21, 1962
Date of Death:
September 12, 2008
Place of Birth:
Ithaca, NY
Place of Death:
Claremont, CA
Education:
B.A. in English & Philosophy, Amherst College, 1985;MFA, University of Arizona, 1987

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Everything and More: A Compact History of Infinity 3.9 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 8 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Readers who are interested in the subject more than in math itself and who, like myself, have only a first year college math, will want to read this book twice. But I will go a step further than the Journal in saying that readers, when they feel they are getting lost, will stop, as I did, and put in a marker. They will then return to the last place where they felt comfortable and try again to 'cross the road', confident that it is possible (because Wallace says so) but all the while mindfull of the fact that there really is no end.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
Pazzo More than 1 year ago
While in today's world of calculus and advanced math, we may take infinity for granted, this book is a great demonstration of the difficulties and benefits of abstract thought. Like how it wasn't until math became more abstracted (and removed from the physical reality) that it was able to provide science with profound real-world breakthroughs. A fiction writer of the non-science variety, DFW is brings his unique perspective and writing style to a truly fascinating subject. While the math can get heavy at times, he still manages to spin an intriguing narrative and show the trouble, paradoxes, and controversy throughout history caused by the very concept of infinity.
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