Logical Dilemmas: The Life and Work of Kurt Gödel: Life and Work of Kurt Godel Hardcover – 31 Dec 1996
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Dawson's book remains a starting point for our view into the life and work of the man who gave the world incompleteness.
-- The Review of Modern Logic, March 2007
About the Author
John W. Dawson, Jr. attended M.I.T. as a National Merit Scholar before earning a doctorate in mathematical logic from the University of Michigan. An internationally recognized authority on the life and work of Kurt Godel, Dawson is the author of numerous articles on axiomatic set theory and the history of modern logic. --This text refers to the Paperback edition.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
In putting together this biography, Mr. Dawson has the advantage of being mathematician. Additionally, he has the advantage of being the mathematician who catalogued Godel's papers after his death. This gives him a lot of insight into Godel that other writers cannot have and he weaves quotations from these papers into the biography very well. Mr. Dawson's is a well-documented and logical biography that is short on conjecture and long on footnotes. In brief, it is a biography about a mathematician clearly written by a mathematician. This is both its strength and its weakness.
Actually, I like the purely biographical sections of this book very much. The biographical information is clear and informative, though a bit dry in the academic style favored by mathematicians and scientists. Fortunately, having lived and worked among these people, I am comfortable with this style. More importantly, I feel like I have a better idea now of who Godel was and what he was like from reading this book. His focus on his work, his relationship with his family and friends (particularly his wife) and his ultimate decent into mental illness are much more in focus for me now.
On the other hand, the sections that deal with Godel's mathematics are much more difficult to take. The discussion of mathematics in this book goes far beyond what most people are going to be able to handle. I fear the average reader even with a decent math background who comes across this book will drop it as soon as the mathematics starts and that is unfortunate. (I am always looking for books to promote math even among non-mathematicians. This one does not do it.) A reader who can handle the math, however, will find this book revealing.
Chapter III, for instance is a capsule history of the development of logic to 1928. This is to give background to the mathematical world as it existed when Godel was starting his work. In particular it discusses the open problems in mathematics that David Hilbert proposed in 1900. Godel resolved the second of these problems.
Coupled with his genius in mathematics, Godel also had serious psychological problems. He eventually died of starvation because he was convinced that the food he was getting had been poisoned and refused to eat. Dr. Dawson has written a compasionate and understanding biography, even if the mathematics gets just a bit deep once in a while.
Having catalogued Godel's works and personal papers, Dawson saw aspects of Godel's life that perhaps no one short of his wife had seen.
The book is a fascinating jaunt through the through the lives of one of the greatest minds of the 20th century. What is also interesting is Godel's interaction with personalities such as Einstein and Van Neumann.
While the mathematics is often abstract, as can be expected, Logical Dilemmas is a mesmerizing read.
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