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Geek Sublime: The Beauty of Code, the Code of Beauty

Overview

The nonfiction debut from the author of the international bestseller Sacred Games about the surprising overlap between writing and computer coding

Vikram Chandra has been a computer programmer for almost as long as he has been a novelist. In this extraordinary new book, his first work of nonfiction, he searches for the connections between the worlds of art and technology. Coders are obsessed with elegance and style, just as writers are, but do the words mean the same thing to ...

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Geek Sublime: The Beauty of Code, the Code of Beauty

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Overview

The nonfiction debut from the author of the international bestseller Sacred Games about the surprising overlap between writing and computer coding

Vikram Chandra has been a computer programmer for almost as long as he has been a novelist. In this extraordinary new book, his first work of nonfiction, he searches for the connections between the worlds of art and technology. Coders are obsessed with elegance and style, just as writers are, but do the words mean the same thing to both? Can we ascribe beauty to the craft of writing code?

     Exploring such varied topics as logic gates and literary modernism, the machismo of tech geeks, the omnipresence of an “Indian Mafia” in Silicon Valley, and the writings of the eleventh-century Kashmiri thinker Abhinavagupta, Geek Sublime is both an idiosyncratic history of coding and a fascinating meditation on the writer’s art. Part literary essay, part technology story, and part memoir, it is an engrossing, original, and heady book of sweeping ideas.

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Editorial Reviews

The New York Times Book Review - James Gleick
Vikram Chandra is a wonderful novelist and apparently knows his way around an algorithm, too. His new book is an unexpected tour de force, different from anything he has done before…its ambition [is] to look deeply, and with great subtlety, into the connections and tensions between the worlds—the cultures—of technology and art. The book becomes an exquisite meditation on aesthetics, and meanwhile it is also part memoir, the story of a young man finding his way from India to the West and back, and from literature to programming and back.
Publishers Weekly
05/26/2014
Novelist Chandra (Sacred Games) explores the connections between the worlds of computer programming and writing, beginning with the fact that “oth writers and programmers struggle with language.” In a short span, the book offers much material to consider, leaping from a history of computer programming and a primer on logic gates and how these programs work, to a personal of Chandra’s writing life, to some serious philosophical inquiry into how the term “beauty” might be applied to programming. The latter thread draws mainly on the rasa-dhvani theory of aesthetic analysis (from Indian philosophers Anandavardhana and Abhinavagupta), and although the ideas presented are sometimes challenging, Chandra provides more than sufficient intellectual guidance. Chandra’s book calls for a fuller appreciation of the programming world, not only because of the exponentially growing roles software plays in our lives, but also because of the actual work programmers do; in fact, he says of comparisons between programming and other disciplines, “When programmers say what they do is just like what writers do, or gardeners, or painters, the error is that they aren’t claiming enough, the fault is that they are being too humble.” Chandra’s melodic prose further adds to the contingency of his ambitious ideas. This book is truly a relic of today’s day and age. (Sept.)
From the Publisher
Praise for Geek Sublime:

"An unexpected tour de force. . . . Its ambition: to look deeply, and with great subtlety, into the connections and tensions between the worlds—the cultures—of technology and art. The book becomes an exquisite meditation on aesthetics, and meanwhile it is also part memoir, the story of a young man finding his way from India to the West and back, and from literature to programming and back. . . . Programmers feel an exhilarating creative mastery, and Chandra captures it." —James Gleick, The New York Times Book Review

"Geek Sublime dwells on Chandra's gripping personal narrative . . . as well as his sometimes spiritual exploration of computer language, the ancient Vedas, and the way they share so many traits with fiction. In a sense, it's like Zen and the Art of Software Maintenance. 'The past and present speak to us in languages we refuse to hear,' he proclaims, and it's the book's most succinct statement of intent—not to mention its own well-earned profundity." —NPR

"Chandra weaves a comprehensive understanding of the history, practice and art of programming into a startling fabric. . . . It is a dazzle, from beginning to end. . . . Plenty of programmers consider themselves artists, and plenty of writers presume to declaim about programming. But very, very few can comfortably inhabit both worlds with such grace and precision. . . . There is so much to be fascinated by here." —Salon

“Chandra, brainy, delving, and spellbinding, delineates the intricacy and beauty of code. . . . As [he] illuminates links between programming and literature in bedazzling elucidations of Sanskrit, linguistics, aesthetics, and Hindu, Tantric, and Buddhist beliefs, he also conducts unique and heady inquiries into codes, ethical as well as binary. Chandra’s creative and elegant meshing of thought and experience, conscience and storytelling nets both the profane and the sublime.” —Booklist

Kirkus Reviews
2014-07-02
A fruitful exploration of computer-age aesthetics, when artists are making use of programming even as programmers consider themselves artists.“Poetry’s beauty is infinite,” writes programmer and acclaimed novelist Chandra (Sacred Games, 2007, etc.). True enough, but Windows Vista’s code is still infinitely kludgy, even if, as the author argues, the “iterative processes of programming—write, debug (discover and remove bugs, which are coding errors, mistakes), rewrite, experiment, debug, rewrite—exactly duplicate the methods of artists.” It is an argument that Chandra advances with great subtlety, though it perhaps does not help his case that most of his more extensive examples come from the corpus of Indian, and particularly Sanskrit, literature, which will make that argument sometimes challenging to follow for some readers. Gradually, the book loosens into what at times seem to be only marginally connected essays: Gender parity and code parity are much different things, and the bigness of epics such as theMahabharatais considerably different from the bigness of big data. Still, there is a charm to Chandra’s sometimes-exotic approach, even as he circles back to some of his central questions: What makes a poem beautiful? Can we use the criteria we employ to answer that question to evaluate a computer program as well? The answers he proposes occasionally open onto still other questions, as with this one: “When programmers say what they do is just like what writers do, or gardeners, or painters, the error is that they aren’t claiming enough, the fault is that they are being too humble. To compare code to works of literature may point the programmer towards legibility and elegance, but it says nothing about the ability of code to materialize logic.”An engaging exercise in interdisciplinary thought, both elegant and eloquent. Besides, who can resist a text that works karma, Marcel Duchamp and iterative programming into a single thought?
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781555976859
  • Publisher: Graywolf Press
  • Publication date: 9/2/2014
  • Pages: 272
  • Sales rank: 26,621
  • Product dimensions: 5.40 (w) x 8.10 (h) x 0.40 (d)

Meet the Author

Vikram Chandra is the author of three highly acclaimed works of fiction, most recently Sacred Games, which won the 2006 Hutch Crossword Award. Chandra lives in Oakland, California and teaches at the University of California, Berkeley.

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