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4.2 out of 5 stars130
4.2 out of 5 stars
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on 10 January 2005
I urge you to read this insightful book. It's short and is very easy to read yet will give you a tangible way of contemplating further dimensions by reference to a society with only two (hence the title 'Flatland'). This [Dover Thrift Edition] could well be the best ever spend on a present for your head! The only negative for me is the book's portrayal of Women as straight lines with pointy ends(!), but you have to take into account that it was written by a Victorian Cleric and this part of the story presents an interesting aside in terms of a view of Victorian Society. Please don't get hung up on this point though - in every other way it is incredibly contemporary, accessible and stimulating to the mind. It is referenced by many leading popular science books and is superior to most (incredible considering its vintage). It certainly represents an essential addition to your bookshelf! I'm sure you won't be disappointed.
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Some science books make stuff seem complicated. Even more compliacted than it needs to be. This book, does not. This is an excellent example of a book being able to open your mind to wider possiblities by explaining stuff you already know about insticivly but have never put into words yourself. Although this book is not for the expert, it is ideal for someone just getting going or needing the chance to recap the basics.
It had me thinking for weeks.
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on 18 April 2011
This is a compact, insightful and thought-provoking gem which can be appreciated from scientific, mathematical, historical and cultural standpoints. With string theory popularising the concept of higher dimensions today, it's an ideal starting point for those wanting to be able to consider some of the big questions that science is asking. Furthermore, this edition is everything you could want from an ebook. It's formatted perfectly, doesn't forgo the illustrations which are important in a book like this, and is at a fantastic price.
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on 12 October 2002
That better understanding comes from simplicity is well known. But this axiom is taken to new heights here!
On the one level this is a cool and very amusing exposee of dimensionality. But on another far more fascinating level, it is a brilliant critique of humanity - of society and its norms and rules. How ridiculous our behaviour must look to beings eyeing us from a 4th dimension!
This book is not just intelligent, it is also funny!
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on 13 December 1998
Flatland is THE must-read for anyone interested in getting a feel for higher dimensions. The book is extraordinarily readable and succeeds even with people that are afraid of mathematics. Abbott's charm lies in his ability to write simply and clearly about a topic that has its share of very unreachable, esoteric books. You fall into the story (whose plot is by no means secondary to the mathematical ideas), and before you know it you find yourself in contemplation of things like the fourth and fifth dimensions. The visual image that this book provides is a necessary step to envisioning and then understanding the idea of higher dimensions, even for those already versed in the mathematics of it. You never know, after you read this, you might even be willing to try your hand at things like Einstein's relativity. A little on the social aspects of the book: keep in mind that it was written in the very late 1800's. Hidden within the philosophical and mathematical ideas is a satire of the social climate of the times: how women, the military, the upper echelons of society, and just about everyone else were viewed. Flatland makes you think, and think deeply, on many different and sometimes unexpected levels.
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on 22 August 2007
A. Square (!), trying to work out what it might be like as a cube, while we of 3 dimensions watch him and ultimately pine with him for even more dimensions. The author is clearly barmy, and a legend. And not only does it leave you in a happily confused state of mind, trying desperately to understand the nature of space, there's also some hilarious satire, and purely inspired explanations for how the whole thing would work. Although the style is sometimes difficult to follow, and it is a bit too short, Flatland is certainly worth a read.
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on 14 February 2008
Please don't be deterred by those reviewers who imagine that the author shared the Flatlanders' disparaging view of women and blue-collar men. Not so. E. A. Abbott was an energetic teacher and writer as well as an Anglican priest, and he devoted a great deal of his energy to the cause of women's education, working with the leading female educators of the day in their campaign for access to universities and better opportunities for secondary education. As well as a parable and an introduction to n-dimensional geometry, Flatland is a satire on social prejudice-- on two-dimensional attitudes, in other words. The clues can be found in the book itself, but the record of Abbott's life confirms the satirical agenda. Victorian clergymen weren't all misogynists and snobs, and to assume that Victorians in general were stuffy, biased, and repressed is both patronizing and unfair. There are bigots in every time and place, our own included, but there are always also those who are working for a better, juster world.
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on 5 June 2006
This is a book that took complex ideas and presented them well at a time when the science was not widely understood. Written as a satire on the victorian society where the author lived it still chalenges some of our modern prejudices.

Consider also reading Flatterland by Ian Stewart, which brings the ideas into a modern context
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on 18 July 2002
I think the hundreds of reviews preceding this one sum up the book pretty well, so I won't recap it all here. I just wanted to point out that the reviewer who thought that Flatland was a religious allegory, with the Sphere as Jesus has defintely missed the point - Sphere is one of a line (no pun intended) of all too fallible and very much human characters who we meet in the book, illustrating one of its sharpest ironic points (I just can't help myself now).
The first is the Point, utterly convinced, in the teeth of all the evidence, of the non-existence of everything but itself. Then we meet (in a dream) the King of Lineland, who prefers to believe that the Square is a mutant woman, rather than believe in a two-dimensional space (I promise I'm not making this up). Then we have A. Square, our narrator, who has to be forced to accept the reality of three dimensions by being forcibly removed from Flatland.
And, almost at the end of the book, the Sphere, who, until now has seemed to represent enlightened wisdom, shows his own flaws, by reacting angrily and petulantly to the suggestion of fourth, fifth or higher dimensions.
The Sphere is definitely not meant to be divine - he's just as limited in vision as all the other characters. I hardly think that a clergyman would be so unflattering about Jesus.
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I came to this odd little gem via Carl Sagan's Cosmos (Cosmos [DVD] [1980). Sagan uses an apple - gleefully slicing and printing, rather poorly, circular sections with it - to illustrate Abbot's ideas on how one might begin to think extra-dimensionally.

A clergyman and teacher, Abbot's work is a both a gentle satire on the society of the time, and a philosophical/religious parable. Not being religious I was worried I might be subjected to some kind of intellectual contortionist act akin to that of Philip Gosse's Omphalos. But Abbot's ideas tap far deeper roots than would either a mere allegory of Christian religion (cf. C. S. Lewis' Narnia series), or even a pithy social critique. For my money it's as a philosophical nugget that this tiny but beguiling book punches well above its apparent weight, reminding us - like Hume's 'Dialogue & History of Natural Religion' (Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion, and The Natural History of Religion (Oxford World's Classics)) that - if we take ourselves as the measure of everything, we're likely to severely miscalculate in many important areas. I'm not sure what Abbott would make of my reading of his work, but I find it stimulates my mind rather towards scientific paradigm shifts, like the cosmological re-orderings of Copernicus and Galileo, or Darwin's fundamental rewriting of the history of life on earth, than religious ones.

It's tricky territory, and, rather like the pervasive fogs that fill Flatland, it can be hard to keep the bigger philosophical ideas that lurk here in focus. On one level (which of Abbot's levels this might correspond to I can't be sure) this can be read as a Victorian appeal to retain a religious sense of 'our place' in 'creation', alongside a simultaneous appeal to our potential faith in the unseen 'spiritual' dimension. But on another, and to my mind deeper (or more 'dimensional') level, it's also a thought experiment concerning how humans are stuck in the matrix of their own physical/mental modes of perception, and that's an exciting area for thought. Some may read this in the modern parlance of 'n-dimensional' terminology, and think of quantum worlds, whilst others may be draw more towards the cognitive/conceptual aspects of these ideas.

There's a point in the book (the pun's unavoidable), where the Sphere shows the Square a view of Pointland, where there are no dimensions, in which a single consciousness buzzes continuously to itself: able only to perceive itself, all else is merely an aspect of it's self. The square and the sphere are horrified by the introspective solipsism of the point, the Sphere sternly declaiming, somewhat contradictorily: "Behold yon miserable creature... mark his perfect self-contentment, and hence learn this lesson... to be self-contented is to be vile and ignorant... to aspire is better than to be blindly and impotently happy". This passage puts aspirations to contentment, which most if not all of us no doubt pursue much of our lives, however ineffectually, in an interesting light.

A very short but stimulating and pleasurable read, highly recommended.
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