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The Infinite Book: A Short Guide to the Boundless, Timeless and Endless Paperback – 3 Nov 2005


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Product details

  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; New Ed edition (3 Nov. 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0099443724
  • ISBN-13: 978-0099443728
  • Product Dimensions: 13 x 2.2 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 219,257 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description

Review

"A delight. Popular science doesn't come much better than this" (Independent)

"Barrow brings his charm and wit to provide an account that is highly engaging" (Nature)

"Science writing at its best. A cutting-edge scientist and a proven writer tackles a subject of infinite fascination. As page-turning as a detective story" (Good Book Guide)

"If you enjoy a good intellectual wrestle, this book is for you" (Daily Mail)

Book Description

Everything you might want to know about infinity - in history and all the way to today's cutting-edge science.

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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Robert Zbodak on 31 May 2008
Format: Paperback
I have read already several books from John D Barrow (Theories of Everything, Book of Nothing, Pi in the Sky), and I found some of them a bit vague and with some irrelevant chapters. To me, this one is the best one from Barrow I have read. The topic could have been discussed even more in depth, but overall, the book kept me turning pages from the beginningto end, and I have not read many better written popular science books. Even though there were some, therefore I give 4 of 5 :-))
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Bill Barlow on 8 Jun. 2009
Format: Paperback
This book is a wonderful read. The Math is kept descriptive rather than technical and is easy to follow. The writing is clear and easy to read. The theories and concepts however stretch the mind. In contemplating the nature of infinity we are taken into the vast and the tiny. It crosses the boundary into theology and I was quick to pass it on to a clergyman friend.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By GoatHorns on 29 Dec. 2011
Format: Paperback
This is the first John D. Barrow book I have read. It hasn't left me scouring the bookshop for his others.

'The Infinite Book' is a fairly punchy guide to a collection of topics that revolve around the subject of infinity. Quite a large number of topics are tackled: philosophy of infinity, religion and its view of the infinite, various mathematical and physical paradoxes, the big bang and inflation, the consequences of living in an infinite universe/multiverse, time-travel, solving infinite problems in a finite time with so-called infinity machines, the consequences of living forever. The book is even biographical in places, taking a chapter to look at the life and work of Georg Cantor.

This all sounds very interesting to the lover of popular science. However, perhaps because so many topics have been taken on, few if any of them have been dealt with sufficiently. The whole book seems like a collection of summaries or abstracts to other books that deal with these topics more thoroughly. At the end of most chapters, I was left with a 'is that it' feeling.

Nevertheless the book does have some good points. I found the the discussion of the Infinity Machine intriguing. I also enjoyed ideas about advanced civilisations creating simulated universes in which simulated civilisations could evolve.

There isn't much mathematics in this book either (I'm not sure if this is a good or a bad thing). Barrow does a good job of describing how ideas about the infinite were gradually incorporated into mathematics, but he says almost nothing about how modern mathematics views/uses infinity. Most of the final half of the book is about cosmology. The final chapter discusses the psychological and sociological ramifications of eternal human life.
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Format: Paperback
This book is at the high end of the "popular science reads" I say this because while this is obviously aimed at the non-scientific/mathematical community, the fact is our brains are ill equipped to deal with concept of infinity. Just the basic idea is hard to grasp but that's made even worse by Cantor's concept of different sizes of infinity including unknowable ones...

This book took me a while to read not because it's written in a particularly impenetrable way but each section really gets you thinking. For example the paradoxes of an infinite universe (as opposed to just a very big one) are enough to really get you scratching your head. But it's fascinating stuff, it's a great mental work out that lingers in the back of your mind all day long and then you pick the book up again and it's time for another mental sweat. I must however stress that the writing itself is easy going, accessible and fun and therefore the perfect antidote to the mind bending the topic creates.

What was particularly surprising to me was how much the topic of infinity has been at the forefront of mathematical, scientific and theological debate for so long. Sometimes it was shunned, other times mocked but it's interesting that the one concept would bring these 3 disciplines into contact and work at the same issue from different angles.

So if you want to really wrestle with the idea of the infinite and try and comprehend what that phrase means then this is the book to start off with.
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14 of 17 people found the following review helpful By anonymous on 1 Feb. 2006
Format: Paperback
"Well," I said to myself, as I picked up The Infinite Book for a bargain, finite sum of money, "this ought to last a while".

There are a number of playful paradoxes on the theme of "infinite" books, and indeed Barrow mentions one of them in a chapter of his own "Infinite Book", a short story by Borges, in which a man finds a book with an infinite number of pages, which means that absolutely all knowledge, both true and false, is contained within it ... the answer to everything is always there, somewhere, but once you've lost your page the chances of ever finding it again are mathematically nil. However, this "Infinite Book" reminded me of a different sort of imaginary "infinite book" - a mathematical paradox, in which every successive page of a book is half the thickness of the previous one, so when you flip the book over to look at the last page, the last page doesn't exist.

Just like this latter "infinite book", it seemed to me that the content of "The Infinite Book" started out in the early pages as challenging, hefty, engaging - and then starts to become more flimsy and insubstantial as it goes on. It's as if the author started out with a terrific idea for a book (and the early chapters, about Cantor's infinities and the heresy of infinity, make for engrossing reading) but then ran out of ideas and had to pad it out to book length with in some places, frankly daft chapters about Infinite Machines and Living Forever. Increasingly the reader is asked to accept statements that challenge not only one's intuition but also the foregoing text, unless of course the current theory is truly so esoteric that it doesn't make sense to the ordinary brain.
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