The Unimaginable Mathematics of Borges' Library of Babel

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Overview


"The Library of Babel" is arguably Jorge Luis Borges' best known story--memorialized along with Borges on an Argentine postage stamp. Now, in The Unimaginable Mathematics of Borges' Library of Babel, William Goldbloom Bloch takes readers on a fascinating tour of the mathematical ideas hidden within one of the classic works of modern literature.

Written in the vein of Douglas R. Hofstadter's Pulitzer Prize-winning Gödel, Escher, Bach, this original and imaginative book sheds ...

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The Unimaginable Mathematics of Borges' Library of Babel

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Overview


"The Library of Babel" is arguably Jorge Luis Borges' best known story--memorialized along with Borges on an Argentine postage stamp. Now, in The Unimaginable Mathematics of Borges' Library of Babel, William Goldbloom Bloch takes readers on a fascinating tour of the mathematical ideas hidden within one of the classic works of modern literature.

Written in the vein of Douglas R. Hofstadter's Pulitzer Prize-winning Gödel, Escher, Bach, this original and imaginative book sheds light on one of Borges' most complex, richly layered works. Bloch begins each chapter with a mathematical idea--combinatorics, topology, geometry, information theory--followed by examples and illustrations that put flesh on the theoretical bones. In this way, he provides many fascinating insights into Borges' Library. He explains, for instance, a straightforward way to calculate how many books are in the Library--an easily notated but literally unimaginable number--and also shows that, if each book were the size of a grain of sand, the entire universe could only hold a fraction of the books in the Library. Indeed, if each book were the size of a proton, our universe would still not be big enough to hold anywhere near all the books.

Given Borges' well-known affection for mathematics, this exploration of the story through the eyes of a humanistic mathematician makes a unique and important contribution to the body of Borgesian criticism. Bloch not only illuminates one of the great short stories of modern literature but also exposes the reader--including those more inclined to the literary world--to many intriguing and entrancing mathematical ideas.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"Mr. Bloch, professor of mathematics at Wheaton College, has woven an elegant, ingenious, scholarly interpretation of Borges's text that contradicts the disingenuous 'unimaginable' of his title."--New York Sun

"For the reader of Borges, some of Bloch's observations may offer a useful new way of engaging with the themes of the fiction." -- American Scientist

"You need no advanced mathematics to understand 'The Library of Babel' but chances are good that if you like the story, you'll enjoy Professor Bloch's excursions." -- Mathematical Association of America Review

"Given Borges' well-known affection for mathematics, this exploration of the story through the eyes of a humanistic mathematician makes a unique and important contribution to the body of Borgesian criticism. Bloch not only illuminates one of the great short stories of modern literature, but also exposes the reader - including those more inclined to the literary world - to many intriguing and entrancing mathematical ideas."--Mathematical Reviews

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780195334579
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA
  • Publication date: 8/25/2008
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 224
  • Sales rank: 533,735
  • Product dimensions: 5.70 (w) x 8.30 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

William Goldbloom Bloch is Professor of Mathematics at Wheaton College.

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Table of Contents

The Library of Babel 3

Ch. 1 Combinatorics: Contemplating Variations of the 23 Letters 11

Ch. 2 Information Theory: Cataloging the Collection 30

Ch. 3 Real Analysis: The Book of Sand 45

Ch. 4 Topology and Cosmology: The Universe (Which Others Call the Library) 57

Ch. 5 Geometry and Graph Theory: Ambiguity and Access 93

Ch. 6 More Combinatorics: Disorderings into Order 107

Ch. 7 A Homomorphism: Structure into Meaning 120

Ch. 8 Critical Points 126

Ch. 9 Openings 141

App Dissecting the 3-Sphere 148

Notations 157

Notes 159

Glossary 165

Annotated Suggested Readings 175

Bibliography 181

Index 187

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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Posted February 13, 2012

    Fun with way too many books!

    Reprints Borges' story about a library with every possible book less than so many pages long, which is way too many books to fit into the entire universe! Works through the numbers and various topological and combinatorical issues. My one gripe is that because it spends a lot of time on the basics of each topic, the actual material on the library is somewhat limited. Nice book to have handy for a sanity check, if you care to think about the Library!

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