Rob's Reviews > Everything and More: A Compact History of Infinity

Everything and More by David Foster Wallace
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Oct 15, 08

bookshelves: non-fiction-for-egghead-spacealiens
Read in October, 2008

most books ought to be half as long as the published product. this one needed to be twice as long.

started out 5 stars. lots of great stuff on ancient greek philosophy and the relationship between how they thought about math and how they thought about the universe. typical hilarious DFW non-fiction humor/profundity mixture.

"...the single most ubiquitous and oppressive feature of the concrete world -- that everything ends, is limited, passes away."

"a language is both a map of the world and its own world."

the middle third gets mathier as he goes through the 17th and 18th centuries. a lot of jolly descriptions of the personalities and human foibles that are part of all public intellectual communities. but as things get more technical, he starts talking too much about how things are getting more technical, and how he knows that he's not going to be able to please any of his readers, since it will be too techinical for many, too simplified for others, etc., etc.

finished up 3 stars. only in the last third do we finally get to Cantor, and even then it's only maybe half Cantor, with lots of Dedekind, Weierstrass, and Godel, which would be great if the book were twice as long. but as it is, there seems to be only 30-40 pages on Cantor and his work. you can feel DFW rushing and cramming, and he knows he is, and he starts apologizing and explaining over and over why he's only going to be able to barely mention this and won't have space to mention that, etc. also, he actually tries to include quite a few proofs and examples, but in almost pure prose, which makes it very hard to follow.

i think that to like this book, you have to be a fan of DFW and have a pretty serious math background. not surprisingly, it has a pretty awful rating at amazon, with lots of 1-star ratings, both from civilians who call it incomprehensible and from pro-type math geeks who call it rubbish. pretty sad.

but if you like penrose or hofstadter, you might like this. more history and humanity here than those two.
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