Everything and More: A Compact History of [Infinity Symbol] Hardcover – 13 Nov 2003
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"The tics and pleasures of his prose are all present and correct." (TIME OUT)
There aren't many books about mathematics that will have you laughing out loud, but this is one of them. It's a great read.... takes a novelists (and novel) look at infinity , has the maths and the history, as well as dry and very funny asides and - most impressive of all - the flair and the style to pull all of it together. (NEW SCIENTIST)
David Foster Wallace misses no opportunity away from the necessarily strict wording of mathematical argument for verbal play. (ADAM MARS JONES THE OBSERVER REVIEW)
Weirdly wonderful. (THE TELEGRAPH)
The 41-year-old Wallace is probably the most important novelist of his generation, and he has fans who will follow him even into differential equations. (BOSTON GLOBE)
"infinity is irresistible meat for the popularizer, and quite a few books in that vein have appeared over the years. Now, in Everything and More: A Compact History of 8 the celebrated author David Foster Wallace has set out to initiate readers into its mysteries. (THE NEW YORKER)
Wallace approaches his subject matter with a surprising degree of humor, genuine enthusiasm, and technical depth. (CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR)
Wallace does an admirable job unwinding what he calls "the Story of Infinity's overall dynamic, whereby certain paradoxes give rise to conceptual advances that can handle those original paradoxes but in turn give rise to new paradoxes, which then generate further conceptual advances, and so on." (SALON)
Less than a third the size of Infinite Jest, Everything and More sees the king of cross-purposes taking on the biggest, most dread-inducing paradox of all, with results as thrilling and maddening, as open-ended and self-devouring, as much of his fiction. (VILLAGE VOICE)
David Foster Wallace is a scarily smart writer (THE ONION)
The best-selling author of Infinite Jest on the two-thousand-year-old quest to understand infinity.See all Product description
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I have heard it suggested that this was a "spoof" book, in which case perhaps it succeeds. However, I bought the book on the basis that it was a serious attempt to tackle a serious subject, and apart from some lovely little gems (almost all in the first quarter of the book), was left somewhat dismayed.
If there was a 2 and a half star, I would probably have gone there instead of the 2, but there we have it.
There are many popular accounts of infinity, some very sound (eg Vilenkin), some attractive but containing serious errors (eg Maor), and some lame (which remain nameless). But Wallace has the knack of delivering ideas with stunning simplicity; and I found the book hard to put down, in much the same way that, as a schoolboy, I found Sawyer's 'Prelude to Mathematics' quite addictive. His style is chatty without being in the least patronising: indeed he occasionally resorts to schoolboy humour, perhaps rather smutty, but never offensive; and I found myself breaking into spontaneous laughter at times.
Mathematically the book is as ambitious as it could be without going into too much abstract symbolism, and any such book is bound to attract some criticism from specialists. Thus he talks intelligently about Zermelo, well-ordering, the Axiom of Choice, the Continuum Hypothesis,etc, and I applaud his achievement.
The book is peppered with the usual Wallace-isms of abbreivations, footnote, interludes and interpolations. The abbreviations were often unhelpful; the footnotes often very interesting. In some places his style makes the book very entertaining and in others infuriating.
Ultimately, I found this book an enjoyable read but mostly from the historical perspective. The technical content is variable and the really interesting stuff at the end is (perhaps necessarily) only given a very cursory discussion. I wouldn't recommend it for the layman, and it might annoy the expert, but I think there is fun to be had for those with a bit of background in the subject and a mind open to a pretty unique mode of presentation.
I find it difficult to see how someone without much maths could follow the book. 4 stars to compensate for the previous reviewer, who by her own admission read less that a sixth of the book.