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Incompleteness: The Proof and Paradox of Kurt Gödel (Great Discoveries)
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Incompleteness: The Proof and Paradox of Kurt Gödel (Great Discoveries)

3.96  ·  Rating details ·  1,096 Ratings  ·  102 Reviews
Paperback, 224 pages
Published February 28th 2006 by W. W. Norton & Company (first published 2005)
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I’ve always been fascinated by Kurt Gödel and his incompleteness theorems. While Douglas Hofstadter did a fine job in explaining the latter in his book Gödel, Escher, Bach , and also in a video lecture, there’s hardly any biographical/personal information about the human behind the mathematician here to be found. That’s where Rebecca Goldstein jumps in. Her book focuses on the life of the “greatest logician since Aristotle”. About his time at the Vienna Circle (a.k.a. the Schlick-Group) in the ...more
Jan 21, 2011 rated it really liked it
The more I think about language, the more it amazes me that people ever understand each other at all.

Fucking Gödel.

The above (pictured with a rueful smile and head shake) succinctly summarizes my feelings for the incomparable Kurt Gödel—the greatest logician since Aristotle, as Rebecca Goldstein makes sure to iterate several times—the quiet and unassuming genius whose steel-trap mind could capture those ethereal abstract truths and convert them into human language constructs; who single-handedly
Kaya York
Mar 20, 2013 rated it it was amazing
What a wonderful book. Goldstein not only lays out Godel's famous theorems in relatively understandable terms for the layman (an accomplishment in itself,) but provides an original, funny, and lucid account of the intellectual atmosphere in which these theorems arose. She discussed Godel's relation to the Logical Positivists and Formalists, which sheds great light upon the meaning of his discoveries. She also dispels the postmodernists mythologies about what Godel's theorems mean. In addition, s ...more
Brad Lyerla
Nov 18, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
INCOMPLETENESS is an excellent book about an intellectually elusive subject. Kurt Godel's fame was established by his proof of something called "the Incompleteness Theorem." His proof employed formal logic to establish a basic truth about mathematics. Namely, that in closed systems, there will be true statements that cannot be proved. Until Godel's proof, many leading mathematicians assumed the opposite was true. This is a challenging subject to write about, but Goldstein makes it easily accessi ...more
Jan 11, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Gödel-girls-and-boys
I'm going to reread the sections specifically about Gödel's incompleteness theorems because i'd really like to be able to speak about them without misrepresenting them one of these days. You could call it a New Year resolution if you wanted to.

I don't know how to rate this book because i'm so incapable of rating Goldstein's ability to convey the mathematical ideas. I can say that i thought i was read many sentences more than once ... but in completely different sections of the book, as if the ed
Collin Winter
"Incompleteness" is less about Gödel's actual incompleteness theorems -- the proofs and their specific mathematical legacy -- than it is about the philosophical environment those theorems were developed in. Put another way, this is a book less about Gödel and more about Gödel and Wittgenstein, or perhaps more accurately, about Wittgenstein and Gödel.

This is a book that prefers to tell rather than show: Goldstein spends 160 pages telling the reader how amazing and important and revolutionary Göde
Keith Akers
May 21, 2010 rated it really liked it
This is a great book to learn more about "Goedel's Proof" (actually two proofs, or actually three proofs if you count his Ph. D. thesis on predicate calculus). The incompleteness of mathematics is an astounding concept -- it's so astounding, that you are left breathless, not even sure what the whole thing means. Does this mean that God exists? Actually, Goedel himself toyed with variations of the ontological proof. The incompleteness of mathematics is just really hard to wrap your brain around; ...more
Apr 24, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: philosophy
This book is succinct, accessible and well constructed. Godel's Incompleteness Theorems are so significant in the history of ideas that it is essential to have a decent grasp of just what they are and why they mattered and this book supplies that need for general readers. It gives a good enough explanation of Godel's findings and deals with the reactions of other major names to his theories, which sheds interesting light on their work too.

We need to grasp Godel's theories accurately because we
Apr 23, 2007 rated it liked it
Well written and a good picture of Godel, his work, philosophy and the times he lived in. There would be more starts up there but for 2 reasons:

1 The book goes through thumbnail sketches of Godel's famous proofs and then a more involved version, but even after the more detailed explanation I still felt like I had only scratched the surface of it. Some of the things asserted about the process of Godel numbering seemed almost magical as a result. This is a tough balancing act for any popular take
Jul 13, 2008 rated it it was ok
Shelves: real-worldy
Suck it, postmodernists.
Steven Williams
Apr 30, 2014 rated it liked it
I may have read this book previously, but I could not remember doing so. This review replaces the very short review I had previously made.

In this book Rebecca Goldstein sets out to explain Kurt Godel’s life, including his incompleteness theorems. She first sets the stage in an environmental context, both personal and mathematical. Then comes her explanation of Godel’s theorems. And finally, the later stages of his life.

The book starts our interestingly enough with the relationship between Einste
Jun 08, 2014 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: purple
David Foster Wallace (RIP) once referred to Kurt Goedel, the subject of this book, as mathematics' Prince of Darkness. Douglas Hofstadter gave his Incompleteness Theorems (1 and 2) a central role in his book “Goedel, Escher, Bach”. Goedel's ideas are so central to 20th century thinking that it is likely that Einstein (for many years until his death Goedel's closest friend) was the only person he ever met who he was not, eventually, to become more famous and influential than (for example Wittgens ...more
Apr 16, 2014 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book is serviceable in being a readable introduction to Gödel's famous proofs and a general (very general) understanding of the intellectual and historical circumstances within which it grew. While I do not have the capabilities to judge whether she provides a completely faithful representation of Gödel and his proofs, it is within my power to deem her handling of Wittgenstein, whom she spends a great deal of pages discussing, to be sorely unsympathetic, uncharitable, and misrepresentative. ...more
Mar 15, 2007 rated it really liked it
A great book about this most genius mathematical mind of the last 100 years. Rebecca Goldstein actually provides a simplified version of the proof of the Incompleteness Theorem.
Jonathan Fretheim
Mar 31, 2011 rated it liked it
Gödel died a paranoid and lonely man. This book is a bummer.
Feb 14, 2016 rated it it was amazing
This book is perfectly balanced between the historical and analytical. The last line in the book was worth all the effort and shoots the book up several layers of appreciation.
Mar 15, 2018 rated it it was ok
Seems to have a major misconception.

I got it as a gift and picked it up to see if I wanted to read. Actually, based on the subject I thought I might want to recommend to a book club I am part of because it's a subject I am very interested in and would make for a good discussion.

However, diving in at chapter ii (which is well into the book) there was a discussion about postulates (or axioms) and intuition. That axioms are necessary for a mathematical system because you need a foundation to build
Jan 14, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: philosophy
This book is an excellent overview of the life and work of the greatest mathematician of the twentieth century. I love the way the book ties the biographical, philosophical, and mathematical all together -- describing how Goedel's philosophical worldview drove him to search for an absolute proof of his point of view. The treatment of the famous incompleteness theorem seems to me well done, though I confess I haven't studied mathematical logic in over 20 years and pretend to no deep understanding ...more
William Schram
Jun 22, 2017 rated it it was amazing
A very engrossing book on Kurt Gödel. It covers his life and the Incompleteness Proof that he formulated, making it understandable. I have read Kurt Gödel's proof, but as I said in my review of that book, I did not really understand it. Maybe now I will return to that book.

Anyway, there are a number of things I did know about Gödel, but some things I did not. I remembered the Einstein-Gödel friendship, but I did not realize that his Incompleteness Proofs were taken the wrong way: that is, they w
Brian Borchers
Aug 07, 2017 rated it really liked it
The technical explanations of Godel's theorems aren't very clear (Nagel's book is a better introduction to this for students of mathematics), but this book is interesting as a biography of Godel and for it's discussion of the history of the philosophy of mathematics.
Trystan Hopkins
Jan 14, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Faultless book. Beautifully written, highly engaging! Godel has been a great philosophical inspiration for me, introduced to me through reading this. Nothing sexier than a woman who is also gifted at logic, Steven Pinker you lucky man ;)
May 29, 2017 rated it really liked it
A lucid account of the relevant biographical details of Godel's life relating to his incompleteness theorems, which this book also clearly and accessibly explains. Later chapters detailing the disagreement upon the metamathetical readings of his proofs were also very helpful.
May 28, 2017 rated it liked it
An informative book. When Goldstein weaves the story of Godel's life and the figures who played a role in it, her writing is engaging. But when she begins explaining the content and context of his or his colleague's theories, her sentences become needlessly choppy, elongated, and protracted.
Feb 13, 2018 rated it really liked it
“This very sentence is false.”
If it is true, it is false.
If it false, it is true.
Alex Lee
Mar 10, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: bio
Over the last two decades two I've read about Godel off and on. So I am familiar with the logic but not with the man. Goldstein is able to present both in this tiny book in a way that is compelling and thorough. She talks about the man but mainly about the evolution of his ideas. The main piece of information she gives me that is different is that Godel is a Platonist, which makes a great deal of sense. Seen from this way, the Incompleteness Theorem can be understood as a simple translation erro ...more
Jul 21, 2015 rated it liked it
Shelves: math
Godel's incompleteness theorem proves that, in any consistent formal mathematical system sufficiently complex to be useful (for instance, the one we use, with our pluses and minuses and our ten digits), there must exist certain arithmetical statements which are true, but impossible to prove. The gist is that it's impossible to remove all intuitive statements--for instance, that a=a--from mathematics, without rendering our system inconsistent, i.e. broken. This was, and still is, a huge deal for ...more
Omar Rodriguez-Rodriguez
Oct 02, 2016 rated it really liked it
Half bio, half review of Godel's proof. It is a good overview of his life, and a peek inside his mind, interests and late paranoias.
May 21, 2010 rated it really liked it
This added to my understanding of philosophy more than mathematics, but the book was primarily a biography of Gödel, so the fact that a reader can actually take away some philosophical insights from a biography makes this book unique.

The description of Gödel’s proof was short and well written, but it was only about 25 pages. I can say I have less of a misunderstanding of the proof, but I can’t say I understood Goldstein’s explanation. If you’re looking for a good explanation, this probably isn’t
Kirk Lowery
This book is an intellectual biography of one of the greatest mathematicians and logicians of the 20th century. Gödel single-handedly derailed the Hilbert-Russell program of putting mathematical proof on to a purely mechanistic (formal) basis. He showed that in any formal system that includes arithmetic, there will be true propositions that cannot be proved within that formal system. There is much more to it than that, but the primary implication is that mathematical truth exists apart from how ...more
Jamie Collins
Probably this is a really good book, but it’s intended for a more erudite reader. It was largely over my head. It's part of the Norton "Great Discoveries" series, and the other two books in that series I've read (on Marie Curie and Ignac Semmelweis) were more accessible than this one.

The introduction is nice - she talks about the creation of the Institute for Advanced study in Princeton, and the unlikely friendship between Gödel and Einstein. Then she launches into a discussion of the Vienna Cir
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Rebecca Newberger Goldstein grew up in White Plains, New York, and graduated summa cum laude from Barnard College, receiving the Montague Prize for Excellence in Philosophy, and immediately went on to graduate work at Princeton University, receiving her Ph.D. in philosophy. While in graduate school she was awarded a National Science Foundation Fellowship and a Whiting Foundation Fellowship.

After e
More about Rebecca Goldstein...

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“The necessary incompleteness of even our formal systems of thought demonstrates that there is no nonshifting foundation on which any system rests. All truths — even those that had seemed so certain as to be immune to the very possibility of revision — are essentially manufactured. Indeed the very notion of the objectively true is a socially constructed myth. Our knowing minds are not embedded in truth. Rather the entire notion of truth is embedded in our minds, which are themselves the unwitting lackeys of organizational forms of influence.” 7 likes
“The secret of the demagogue is to appear as dumb as his audience so that these people can believe themselves as smart as he is.” 2 likes
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