Jafar's Reviews > Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions

Flatland by Edwin A. Abbott
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's review
Mar 16, 2011

really liked it

This book is just brilliant. Written by a British mathematician in 1881, it’s a short fantasy novel about life in two dimensions. People in this book live in a two-dimensional world. They're not aware of, or can't even imagine, the third dimension. They have simple geometrical shapes like triangles and squares and other polygons. The higher the number of the sides, the higher the individual is in the social hierarchy. Those who have so many sides that they resemble a circle are priests. The land is ruled by the Chief Circle. Squares are considered middle-class. Triangles are underclass and soldiers. The lowest status is given to women who are just straight lines. I don’t know about the political beliefs of the author. He was either mocking the sexism and the rigid social order of the Victorian Britain, or he was a supreme reactionary.

Life in two dimensions has its many challenges. As an example – everyone looks like a straight line. Shapes are recognized only when seen from above – in a 3D world. When you live on a plane and see everything on the plane level, everything is just a straight line. The author goes to some length explaining how people can distinguish shapes (similar to how 3D creatures like ourselves can have 3D vision). Life in Flatland is not as boring as you might think. A lot is going on. There are wars and revolutions too.

The story is narrated by a smart Square who is visited by a Sphere from a three-dimensional world. People in Flatland cannot even imagine a third dimension, like we can’t imagine a fourth spatial dimension. Imagine that you’re 2D and a sphere from a 3D space passes through your plane. It is only a point at first, then becomes a circle growing in size, then a circle shrinking in size, until it disappears. All the while, you have no idea where the circle came from and where it went to. A 3D entity can see and touch the inside of your body (from above, but you don’t know what above is). If you’ve locked away things in your 2D safe, the 3D guy can pick them up from there and put them in front of you. There are countless fantastical things that the 3D guy can do in your 2D world – all magic to you! Think of the implications for us if there is a fourth spatial dimension and something comes to us from the 4D space.
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message 1: by VJ (new)

VJ My interpretation rests with the discussion of hierarchy. I do believe this piece was written satirically, but it is an excellent look at the foibles that attend all hierarchies.

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