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The Unimaginable Mathematics of Borges' Library of Babel

3.95  ·  Rating details ·  214 ratings  ·  31 reviews
"The Library of Babel" is arguably Jorge Luis Borges' best known story--memorialized along with Borges on an Argentine postage stamp. Now, in The Unimaginable Mathematics of Borges' Library of Babel, William Goldbloom Bloch takes readers on a fascinating tour of the mathematical ideas hidden within one of the classic works of modern literature.

Written in the vein of Dougla
Hardcover, 192 pages
Published September 1st 2008 by Oxford University Press, USA (first published August 25th 2008)
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Paul Bryant
May 11, 2011 marked it as probably-never
Book shelf enlargement is an issue that many men consider at some point during their lives. It is not uncommon for men to feel embarrassed or anxious about the size of their book shelves, from a young age all the way through life. The ladies do not like to see books stacked in corners of rooms, unsightly and hap-hazard. Fortunately, for the many men between the ages of 18-80 who are looking to add inches to their book shelves, there are a number of shelf enlargement products and treatments out ...more
Peter (Pete) Mcloughlin
I enjoyed to combinatorics and some of the explorations in topology and graph theory. I wish the author had done more on Cantor and infinite. Borges stories were always parables about the infinite. Still enjoyable.
Kane Faucher
Aug 01, 2011 rated it really liked it
The author does a very good job of explaining some of the mathematics that are implied from Borges' short story, and thus uses this as a generative point. The section on the manifold may be a bit confusing for many (although the author does give his frequent "advisories"). Perhaps a little too much time is spent in the beginning making qualifying comments / apologies when they may not be necessary. In my view, there were a few other avenues the author could have explored, but that is hardly cons ...more
Angelo Giardini
"The librarian's life and the Library together embody a Turing machine, running an unimaginable program whose output can only be interpreted by a godlike external observer."
Mar 25, 2017 rated it liked it
Recommended to Celebrilomiel by: Ellise
Fascinating, accessible, and thought-provoking.

In the first-person-singular sections that bookend the first-person-plural mathematical chapters, Bloch's prose had such a friendly and humorous tone that I liked him right away and went from merely intellectually open to fully invested and eager to see what he had to say on approaching Borges' short story through the lens of mathematics. He was like a best friend who delights you with his presence as well as his turn of phrase and makes you instan
Jan 05, 2011 rated it really liked it
Of all the short stories in Argentinian writer Jorge Luis Borges' masterpiece collection FICCIONES, "The Library of Babel" is one of the most peculiar. This weary narration by an aged caretaker of a library of seemingly infinite expanse involves several exotic mathematical principles, yet ones fairly easily graspable by the layman. The mathematician Bloch has written a fine book about all the thought-provoking concepts in Borges' story.

The complete text of "The Library of Babel" is included here
Feb 06, 2016 rated it liked it
Shelves: mathematics

As a book of mathematics, this is an absolutely wonderful book! Very fun—very easy to follow for aspiring mathematicians of all calibers! Five out of five!

As a book on the literature of Borges, this is a terrible book. Incredibly reductive in its approach to the importance of mathematics in Borges' work. Very easily a one out of five.

This book was not so much an exploration of the intersection between mathematics and literature as it was a sort of fun excuse to explore some wonderfully co
May 09, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A clear and straightforward explanation (for laypeople) of the complex and high-level math implicated in Borges' classic short story, "The Library of Babel." Though the story is just a few pages long--a fabulous translation, much better than the one I had previously read, is included in the beginning of this text--it raises questions from all different fields of mathematics, relating to the vastly huge number of books, the possible shape of the Library, and the textual combinations that might ap ...more
Mar 12, 2011 rated it it was amazing
This book is *awesome*! Why? The author takes a short story, "The Library of Babel," by Jorge Luis Borges and analyzes it along many different mathematical dimensions. The results are stimulating and accessible to non-mathematicians. The story is about a library, which is composed of:

An indefinite number of ... hexagonal galleries. In the center of each gallery is a ventilation shaft, bounded by a low railing. ... Twenty bookshelves ... line four of the hexagon's six sides... One of the hexagon'
Jan 09, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Borges fans, math fans, and anybody else interested in expanding their mind.
One would have to write like Borges himself to praise this book adequately. I only grant five stars to books that expand my mind in some great and meaningful way and Mr. Bloch certainly succeeded in doing that. In many ways Borges' "Library of Babel" is one of his simplest and most accessible stories. The Universe as a gigantic library. Yet it is full of too much depth to be contained in that very library. Mr. Block now informs us that there is far more depth to be found than you may have imagin ...more
Feb 06, 2017 rated it liked it
Quite accessible, but it jumps from concept to concept without really digging deep into anything.
Feb 17, 2013 rated it liked it
The Library of Babel is the best example of how Borges brilliantly weaved mathematical ideas into his fiction. This book explores some of the mathematical implications of this ingenious short story. Bloch has a great eye for spotting hidden idea in the story and then expanding upon them. The best was using the Library as a universal Turing machine.
Luke Crawford
Jun 15, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Really quite good. Math for literature types, sort of. Explained to me, among other things, what a manifold is.

"The librarian’s life and the Library together embody a Turing machine, running an unimaginable program whose output can only be interpreted by a godlike external observer. A user. A reader."
Steve Gross
Aug 10, 2017 rated it liked it
You will only enjoy this if you are a fan of both Borges and mathematics.
Sep 25, 2018 rated it it was amazing
For those who want to dive deeper into the implications of Borges' famous library
William Schram
Mar 11, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: mathematics
This book applies ideas in pure mathematics to Jorge Luis Borges' short story, The Library of Babel. Given the description of the Library and the things mentioned in the story, we can come to a number of surprising conclusions about the Library itself. For one thing, it would not be possible to contain the Library in our Universe. The topology of the Library is also something of a sticking point for some since it is supposed to be infinite. Anyway, I thought this book was a charming introduction ...more
Therese Arkenberg
Feb 09, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Written by a talented creative writer, Borges fan, and mathematician--and any one of those on its own could be a full recommendation--this book delves into the mind-blowing implications of a short story that is already staggering in its implications of scale.
If you have the slightest interest in mathematics, Borges, or glimpsing infinity, I'd suggest you track this one down through a library system at once. I don't think there's another book like it in the world. It's such an unusual that I can
Luke Duncan
Feb 01, 2015 rated it really liked it
I picked up this book while working my way through Borges Labyrinths because 1) I've really been enjoying Borges and 2) this books was cited as being as compelling as GEB.

While it didn't quite live up to the GEB plug, it was pretty darn good. As someone with a kinda of mathy background in a technical field, I thought the first few chapters were a little weak but a nice warm up. I especially liked the chapter on Topology, which had the most in depth coverage.

I learned a few new things, got a goo
Oct 06, 2011 rated it really liked it
“Bloch is not only a mathematician, he's also a critic who has reviewed a lot of the literature on the Library of Babel and the life of Borges. So there is a lot in the book besides working out some of the mathematical implications of Borges' inspirations.

If you got as far as calculus in your math studies then you can probably follow most of the math without too much trouble. If you are a fan of Borges, there is a lot here about his math background and interests that you probably didn't know an
Oct 26, 2009 rated it really liked it
Great book about the maths behind trying to make a library of every book that could ever be written. My favorite part of the book is in the preface when the authors asks "who is the intended audience for this work" and answers his question "Of the more than 6 billion people who are not Umberto Eco, I imagine that those who'd find this work appealing are..."
Austin Savill
Dec 31, 2010 rated it really liked it
This book is well written and shows many aspects of infinity as well as explaining much of what infinity means and how we can view or believe some things to be infinite. It explains the passage very well and analyzes many of the arguments of how Borgues conveys this library. I enjoyed it thoroughly but don't think many others would unless they enjoy math or explanations of philosophical concepts.
Feb 27, 2015 rated it really liked it
Pretty neat little book. Uses Borges' Library of Babel as a springboard for introducing some interesting and relevant mathematical concepts in a more or less intuitive way. Though there's definitely some parts that require more concentration, this should be more or less accessible to anybody who's passed high school.
Aug 31, 2008 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Borgesean Mathematicians
Ok, so I'm an easy mark for this book. I was concerned that this would be insufficiently mathy or literary or both, but it is a careful balance of readablity and high concept math. What the title promises, the book delivers.
Thomas Fackler
Jan 07, 2011 rated it really liked it
A concise exposition of the mathematics we can employ to orient ourselves in The Library.
May 11, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
Fantastic, non-trivial analysis of Borges' story, comes complete with topology, combinatorics out the wazoo, with just a hint of non-linear dynamics.
Chris Brownell
May 29, 2012 rated it it was amazing
also a very fun read. I actually only read the first part on the Mathematics of the library and not the literary analysis of the story so far.
Jon Gauthier
Jun 16, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Casual math geeks
Shelves: math
Very accessible; written in a lively and exciting tone that I wish were more common in this genre!
Dec 31, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: language, favorites
Mind. Blown. Well-written, approachable yet brilliant, unafraid to be philosophical, and suitable for a lazy afternoon read or deep intellectual study.
Lane Wilkinson
Oct 20, 2008 rated it liked it
Shelves: logic, mathematics
I just pulled this off the shelf. Reading just the first page makes me feel like Umberto Eco.
dc craig
Feb 16, 2014 rated it it was amazing
An elucidating supplement to the story, and a testament to the greatness of Borges.
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