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Customer Review

on 22 August 2009
I Am A Strange Loop is well-known and loved by lots of geeky readers, but I can't really count myself as one of them, sadly. I wanted to like this book because of its many recommendations by fellow nerds, but it's hard-going. Hofstadter is fascinated, obsessed with the idea of self-referential paradoxes, or 'loopiness' as he calls it. Woe betide you if you find them even slightly less fascinating than he does! You will find your intelligence insulted, your emotional maturity trashed, and even be called a coward (seriously, wtf?). Poor old Bertrand Russell takes the brunt of Hofstadter's frustration at the idea that not everybody finds his pet subject the One True Concept to get their pants in a twist over, and he's continually insulted for attempting to find resolutions to logical paradoxes as though doing so was some kind of intellectual crime against thought. Hofstadter is convinced that we are both fascinated and a little afraid of loopiness, and he's convinced of that because he is himself. He doesn't really make much effort to persuade anybody else, because if you don't feel that way then you're probably in denial or just not able to 'get' what he's telling you.

The other reviewers have done a better job of dissembling Hofstadter's philosophy than I could, so instead I'll concentrate on my other gripes, which is his writing style. He seems to have an idea that his writing is somewhat charming and whimsical. I would disagree, finding it somewhat hectoring and trite. He's obsessed with lists - often presenting an example of some concept immediately followed by ten or twenty sub-examples that all say the same thing. The typeface of the book is huge, so he can easily fill three quarters of a page with arbitrary nouns, something he does with relish. After the third or fourth such block of pointless examples, one finds one's eyes glazing over and skipping to the bottom of the page and reading back up just to avoid his train of thought. After the fifteenth block of them, one starts to actively feel a bit annoyed. Think of all the poor trees that had to be cut down to make these big books full of redundant phrasing. Do they have souls?

He uses frequent alliteration, a convention that drives me mad at the best of times, but becomes still more offensive when it's over-used. Hofstadter says in his preface that he's had fine control over everything in the way the book is presented, including the typography. I dearly wish he'd left the typography and the editing to the experts and concentrated on rigorous verification of his ideas.

All in all, it's a fairly charmless and tedious monologue, patronising and sometimes directly insulting (to both the 'Dear Reader' as well as Bertrand and poor John Searle). Some interesting ideas, but he could do so much better.
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