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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The best-selling author of Infinite Jest on the two-thousand-year-old quest to understand infinity.
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… See more details below

Overview

The best-selling author of Infinite Jest on the two-thousand-year-old quest to understand infinity.
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.

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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.”

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780393326291
Publisher:
Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
Publication date:
11/28/2004
Series:
Great Discoveries Series
Pages:
344
Sales rank:
581,864
Product dimensions:
5.40(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.90(d)

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