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Logical Dilemmas: The Life and Work of Kurt Godel Paperback – 6 Jun 2005
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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
This definitive biography of the logician and philosopher Kurt Godel, now available in paperback, is the first in-depth account to integrate details of his personal life with his work. Based on the author's intensive study of Godel's papers and surviving correspondence, Dawson (a logician and historian of science) examines the life of this driven man, whose work on the foundation of mathematics has fundamentally changed our thoughts on this subject and has stimulated much of the research conducted in the twentieth century. He further explores the relationship between Godel's personality and his scientific achievements and describes the impact that Godel's results have had on our modern world view.See all Product description
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Definitely buy another version of this book if you can. This edition is TERRIBLE.
"Since a biography is not a textbook, one whose subject is a twentieth-century mathematician must of necessity be addressed to persons who possess a modicum of mathematical understanding. I have consequently presumed that readers of this volume will have some acquaintance with the large-scale structure of modern mathematics and at least a passing familiarity with some of its major figures." (preface)
Because Dawson is not offering a textbook or even a mathematical popularization of Gödel's work, he doesn't present that work in detail, nor does he present the mathematical and philosophical background to that work. In an appendix, he does offer short "biographical vignettes" of the following men: Bernays, Brouwer, Cantor, Carnap, Church, Frege, Furtwrängler, Hahn, Herbrand, Heyting, Hilbert, Kleene, Menger, Poincaré, Post, Russell, Skolem, Tarski, Turing, Veblen, von Neumann, Weyl, and Zermelo. If these names mean nothing to you, you will be missing much of the pleasure this book can give.
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.