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Godel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid (20th anniversary edition with a new preface by the author) Paperback – 30 Mar 2000

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Product details

  • Paperback: 832 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin; 20th Anniversary ed edition (30 Mar. 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0140289208
  • ISBN-13: 978-0140289206
  • Product Dimensions: 15.3 x 4.1 x 23.4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (50 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 60,865 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Amazon Review

Twenty years after it topped the bestseller charts, Douglas R Hofstadter's Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid is still something of a marvel. Besides being a profound and entertaining meditation on human thought and creativity, this book looks at the surprising points of contact between the music of Bach, the artwork of Escher, and the mathematics of Gödel. It also looks at the prospects for computers and artificial intelligence (AI) for mimicking human thought. For the general reader and the computer techie alike, this book still sets a standard for thinking about the future of computers and their relation to the way we think.

Hofstadter's great achievement in Gödel, Escher, Bach was making abstruse mathematical topics (such as undecidability, recursion, and "strange loops") accessible and remarkably entertaining. Borrowing a page from Lewis Carroll (who might well have been a fan of this book), each chapter presents dialogue between the Tortoise and Achilles, as well as other characters who dramatise concepts discussed later in more detail. Allusions to Bach's music (centring on his Musical Offering) and Escher's continually paradoxical artwork are plentiful here. This more approachable material lets the author delve into serious number theory (concentrating on the ramifications of Gödel's Theorem of Incompleteness) while stopping along the way to ponder the work of a host of other mathematicians, artists, and thinkers.

The world has moved on since 1979, of course. The book predicted that computers probably won't ever beat humans in chess, though Deep Blue beat Garry Kasparov in 1997. And the vinyl record, which serves for some of Hofstadter's best analogies, is now left to collectors. Sections on recursion and the graphs of certain functions from physics look tantalising, like the fractals of recent chaos theory. And AI has moved on, of course, with mixed results. Yet Gödel, Escher, Bach remains a remarkable achievement. Its intellectual range and ability to let us visualise difficult mathematical concepts help make it one of this century's best for anyone who's interested in computers and their potential for real intelligence. --Richard Dragan


I have never seen anything quite like this book. It has a youthful vitality and a wonderful brilliance, and I think that it may become something of a classic. --Martin Gardner, Scientific American

In Some Ways, Godel, Escher, Bach is an entire humanistic education between the covers of a single book. So, for my next visit to a desert island, give me sun, Sand, water and GEB, and I'll live happily ever after. --John L. Casti, Nature

Every few decades an unknown author brings out a book of such depth, clarity, range, wit, beauty and originality that it is recognized at once as a major literary event. This is such a work. --Jeremy Bernstein --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

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First Sentence
Frederick was an admirer not only of pianos, but also of an organist and composer by the name of J. S. Bach. Read the first page
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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108 of 111 people found the following review helpful By muddy-funster on 7 May 2007
Format: Paperback
This enormous book is a hymn to the "strange loop", a term coined by the author. Loosely, a strange loop occurs when, after moving up a level in a conceptual hierachy, one is brought strangely back to where one started. It's closely related to those paradoxes of self-reference which can occur when form and content become intertwined.

An example is the old joke about the park keeper angry that his park has been littered with leaflets entitled "Keep Britain Tidy". Another is building one computer system to test another computer system, and then needing a third system to test the one you've just built. Yet another is the Wikipedia entry of Douglas Hofstadter which, at the time of writing, contains a quote from Hofstadter stating that his Wikipedia entry is full of inaccuracies. (So, do you trust the entry enough to believe this quote claiming it's unreliable?) You get the idea.

Hofstadter sees these strange loops everywhere: in the music of Bach, the art of Escher and, most significantly, Gödel's incompleteness theorem, in which an algebraic system is used to prove a result about itself (rather than about numbers). After he's presented the various variations on these ideas, he then moves on to Artificial Intelligence, examining the "state of the art" as he sees it and discussing the implications of the earlier material for this subject.

Along the way he delves into various other diverse subjects such as the structure of the human brain or the challenges of translating a novel into different (human) languages. Much of this is fascinating stuff and if you are mathematically inclined, there is plenty to love about this book.

Given all the above, why not give the man 5 stars - what more could one possibly ask for?!
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Format: Paperback
I have to admit that this book was sitting on my bookshelf for a while before I started reading it. In fact, I think it was about three years (I hadn't heard of the book's reputation, and so wasn't aware that I shouldn't have been intimidated). Once I got going, however, it was immensely enjoyable. The book covers a wide range of topics (number theory, art, consciousness and so on...), all of which are beautifully intertwined, as the title suggests. Some of the maths is pretty heavy going, I can't claim to have fully understood it on a single read, and I didn't do as the book suggested and worked through some of the examples (which would undoubtedly have made later ideas easier to understand), but even so, there is so much else in the book that it really doesn't matter. Different chapters tend to deal with different themes, so maths doesn't enter them all, and all are preceded by a dialogue which sets up the theme and keeps the mood light. These are beautifully crafted, with many hidden meanings, and, once again, probably require several reads to spot all the layers of meaning (however, a single read will illuminate several of these). The dialogues are so well-written, in fact, that they really kept me reading, as I was determined to plow through some of the heavier stuff to get to the next one.

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book and look forward to coming back to it at some point in the future to see what else I can get out of it.
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34 of 36 people found the following review helpful By Johan Gustavsson on 28 Jun. 2000
Format: Paperback
This is a brilliant book. Back when I was in school, I used to borrow this book from the library during summer vacation, read it throughout the summer and return it in the autumn. For every year, I understood more and more :-) Mind, I was around 15-16 years old, so this was all new and exciting stuff. Now, several years later, I find that bits and pieces crop up in ordinary discussions - recursion, DNA/RNA mechanisms, fractals on a musical level, Zen philosophy,Number theory, AI and mind discussions - that I have long since gotten a sort-of grasp of, due to this book. This is also the book that led me to read "Zen and the art of motorcycle maintenance" (another necessary book). Nowadays, 10 years later, I keep two copies of GEB on my shelf, one in english and one in swedish. Everybody need at least one...but you won't get mine!
I guess I should comment on the way tha hofstadter manages to mae the most complicated subjects understandable, how he manages to find links and analogies in very interesting places, how one can read the book again and again and still find new things to ponder...But I won't. You need this book. Your brain need this book. If you haven't read it yet, Do.
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17 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Depressaholic on 4 Feb. 2006
Format: Paperback
‘GEB’ is a hodge-podge of maths, philosophy, music, art and computer science, centred around a single idea that was captured mathematically in the early 20th century. known as Gödel’s theorem. It is difficult to describe briefly (indeed it takes a few hundred pages for it to become clear in the book) but it is, basically, an idea which states that it is impossible to have a complicated system governed by formal rules in which everything which is supposed to be in the system is described by those rules, and those rules alone are sufficient. Although Gödel’s theorem refers to number theory specifically, he realised that it would also apply to anything which could be described in number theory which, as Hofstadter demonstrates, is pretty much everything. Thus, things that we like to think of as being governed by formal rules (up to and including our own thought) actually can’t be. This expansion of Gödel’s theorem is mind-blowing.
Although ‘GEB’ follows the development of a mathematical idea, the book doesn’t require the reader to have a great maths brain. Hofstadter approaches Gödel’s theorem obliquely from all angles (particularly maths, music and art), partly because it has implications for all of these, but partly because it is so difficult to think about it directly that indirectly thinking about its implications is the easiest way of understanding it. (Hofstadter draws an informative analogy with Zen Buddhism, in that it is very Un-Zen to study Zen directly). He builds up a huge array of analogous systems with which to think about the problem, but builds them up so skilfully that you start to see the relationships between them easily, and flipping between music, art and maths becomes conceptually simple.
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