Proof: This was good. Real good. It's been a while that I've read a book that was as much as a page-turner as this...moreTheory: This book is a page-turner.
Proof: This was good. Real good. It's been a while that I've read a book that was as much as a page-turner as this one. Mind you, I'm basically the ideal audience for this: a) I love math b) I'm good at math c) I don't know much about the history of math. And here's a history of math written by everyone's favorite late contemporary author!
Specifically, this is a history of math with regards to the concept of infinity. Oftentimes it's the histories with through lines, with specific heroes and journeys and villains and mysteries that are the best. The histories that try to cram in every last person and keep jumping from figure to figure are BORING. Or at least dry. Wallace is just such a great storyteller that he really knows how to keep you engaged. First with a hero: Cantor! (the great German mathematician that I had never heard of.) Then with a villain: Aristotle! (the philosopher who everyone knows and who was wrong about a great number of things) Next the journey: Are transfinite numbers (i.e. infinities) for realz? And then some mystery: Why are some infinities bigger than others?
The facts in this story are kind of unbelievable--such as there are more real numbers than rational numbers even though there are infinities of both sets of numbers. Or if you were to throw a dart at the real (number) line the chance that you would hit a rational number would be 0% (WHAAAAA????) If you don't think that's amazing, you probably either already know it or just don't like math.
I will say if you don't like math, you shouldn't read this book. You at least need to know calculus to get a grasp of things and the farther you've gotten beyond that, the better off you'll be. I think most of the bad reviews of this book on this site are from math-haters or math-phobes or the like. Sure, there's the odd mathematician who is bored and knows this stuff already. But if you're like me and a lot of this stuff is new, if you can follow the proofs, this stuff is fascinating. I guess it's because throughout high school and college, people taught me the concepts of math, but they never explained WHY. They explained math as if it was rock solid truth and never got into the reasons behind the theories. Or the histories of the theories. Or the controversies surrounding the theories! Who knew that when Newton and Leibniz came out with calculus, nearly everyone thought it was, in the official mathematical terminology, "bogus?" Or that the Divine Brotherhood of Pythagoras (!) had to hide the existence of irrational numbers because it was undermining their entire religion? Maybe most math lovers do this kind of research on their own but when I was studying math, there were so many other histories I wanted to explore let alone the fact that learning how to do the math itself took enough of my adolescent time.
In addition to being a great storyteller, Wallace is also just a funny guy, who handles the heaviness of the mathematics with a very light touch, utilizing his trademark footnotes to great effect. Example concerning Leibniz who discovered/invented calculus:
Quote: "Leibniz, a lawyer/diplomat/courtier/philosopher for whom math was sort of an offshoot hobby" Footnote: "Surely we all hate people like this."
Finally, Wallace himself is also just so excited about this story that he really brings you, palpably, through the varied ages of mathematics and into your own mind, making you look at life, the future, and the finite and infinite nature of things in a wonderfully removed, abstract, and beautiful way.
Just finished this book after meeting with Abdi. I will not describe my experience with the healer here but I will say that this is a wonderful book,...moreJust finished this book after meeting with Abdi. I will not describe my experience with the healer here but I will say that this is a wonderful book, full of engaging stories and simple yet profound insights. I don't know how much was new information, but he articulates things so well that the insights feel fresh. For instance, his ideas about romantic relationships are quite good, especially how we some of us tend to be caretakers and how destructive this pattern can be. Having met the author, I trust his advice and knowledge perhaps more than I would some other spiritual guide--yet even in the text, you can sense his generous and down-to-earth spirit. Highly recommended and a quick read. (less)
This is an entertaining book with some useful advice. However, I do find it a little funny that an author so young should be writing a book like this....moreThis is an entertaining book with some useful advice. However, I do find it a little funny that an author so young should be writing a book like this. Considering he apparently only has one seemingly gimmicky book of poems to his name, shouldn’t he be focusing on more of them before he starts going on a lecture circuit? At the same time, if the income from this book will allow him more free time and financial security to create his art, then, all power to him. In the meantime, however, maybe I’d rather be rereading a book of advice by Rilke or Kurosawa’s biography instead.(less)
Never find the time to write reviews anymore but I figured I'd try to hammer one out for this one.
This was a very curious read since I wasn't really s...moreNever find the time to write reviews anymore but I figured I'd try to hammer one out for this one.
This was a very curious read since I wasn't really sure whether I liked it--even deciding I didn't halfway through--and then turning around and liking it very much from the end of the first part onwards. That usually doesn't happen in a novel, at least for me. I either enjoy the style or content from the very beginning and continue reading, or dislike the book from the beginning and just stop. Sure, there are some books that start off well but have lousy endings due to shoddy plots. But I find it rare that I should come to appreciate the style of a book halfway in.
Partly this has to do with the book's two halves: the first focuses on Knausgaard's childhood memories; the second on the death of Knausgaard's father when the author is an adult. In the first half, I thought that Knausgaard himself seemed rather annoying and particularly unlikeable. (One of my pet theories is that the books we love are just extensions of the people we would love if we knew them personally--if you dislike a book, you would probably dislike the author on a deep, human level. Or at least I would.) Adding to his irritating personality are an equally obnoxious attitude to others, bland ideas, and boring memories.
But then when we see him dealing with the death of his father, all these memories start to become more meaningful. Everything resonates because we see how these memories are refracted through the prism of death. Even though I had started to dislike the man, I did so because I had started to understand him on a very intimate level. And once I saw how much the loss of his father affected him, I saw all the elements that I disliked pure outgrowths of this twisted familial relationship. Once I knew where he was coming from, I began to truly sympathize and relate to him. In fact, Knausgaard had created an intimacy that made his suffering my own in a way I haven't quite experienced before.
This achievement also has something to do with the way this work is both memoir and novel simultaneously. The details are so small as to be insignificant, banal even. But he structures them in such a marvelous way that they come together like some kind beautifully designed textile made out of the simplest of strings. Even the way he forgoes chapters and rather uses the odd line break here and there to demarcate sections creates a unique rhythm to the text that resists formula.
This is the first of six volumes. I probably will not continue the series, at least not for a while, and that's only because there are so many authors that I haven't read that I still need to explore. But by the end I was totally intrigued and would be happy to stay in this world for a little while longer, even if it's plagued by death.
A final note: there are many Proustian allusions to this work. Let it be said: Knausgaard is no equal to Proust; his language and ideas cannot compare. But he has certainly crafted a fascinating work that reinterprets death and time in a wonderfully singular way.(less)
Having just read and written the review for the book Steal Like an Artist, it’s funny to write the review for this, Rilke’s version. The difference? O...moreHaving just read and written the review for the book Steal Like an Artist, it’s funny to write the review for this, Rilke’s version. The difference? One writer is a nice, smart guy who quotes geniuses, and one writer is a genius. Rilke’s empathy, humility, and passion are palpable on every page. Rilke cares about art—not as some “fun” thing you do in your spare time, but as a MISSION, as the more important thing you could possibly do with yourself. He’s trying to change lives with his art—and trying to change a particular life with these letters. His main advice is to recognize that ultimately you are alone in life, that solitude is your truest companion. Now, Rilke did have a very traumatic family life and education in which he felt like an outsider continuously—so recognizing that being alone is a good thing is quite possibly a justification for never really fitting in. However, with this idea comes a notion of artistic purity: by being alone with your work, you face it objectively and can really determine how good the work is; it’s not about how others perceive your work but rather how you do.
Not every letter is outstanding, but the ones that are are truly inspiring. A slim volume with much soul.(less)