W. W. Norton & Company

Everything And More: A Compact History Of Infinity (Great Discoveries)

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The best-selling author of Infinite Jest on the two-thousand-year-old quest to understand infinity.

One of the outstanding voices of his generation, David Foster Wallace has won a large and devoted following for the intellectual ambition and bravura style of his fiction and essays. Now he brings his considerable talents to the history of one of math's most enduring puzzles: the seemingly paradoxical nature of infinity.

Is infinity a valid mathematical property or a meaningless abstraction? The nineteenth-century mathematical genius Georg Cantor's answer to this question not only surprised him but also shook the very foundations upon which math had been built. Cantor's counterintuitive discovery of a progression of larger and larger infinities created controversy in his time and may have hastened his mental breakdown, but it also helped lead to the development of set theory, analytic philosophy, and even computer technology.

Smart, challenging, and thoroughly rewarding, Wallace's tour de force brings immediate and high-profile recognition to the bizarre and fascinating world of higher mathematics. Before discussing the merits of David Foster Wallace's Everything and More: A Compact History of Infinity, it is essential to define what the book is not. This volume in the "Great Discoveries" series is not a history of the personalities and social conditions that led to the "discovery" of infinity. Nor is it a narrative fixated on the cultish fear of--and obsession with--the infinite that has seemingly driven mathematicians insane over the centuries. Rather, Everything and More is a surprisingly rigorous march through the 2000 plus years of mathematical research that began with Aristotle; continued through Galileo, Isaac Newton, G.W. Leibniz, Karl Weierstrass, and J.W.R. Dedekind; and culminated in Georg Cantor and his Set Theory. The task Wallace (author of the bestseller Infinite Jest and other fiction) has set himself is enormously challenging: without radically compromising the complexity of the philosophy, metaphysics, or mathematics that underlies the evolving concept of infinity, present the material to a lay audience in a manner that is entertaining. To propel his narrative, Wallace even develops a style that mirrors the mathematical language he probes. One difficulty in his focus on concepts and not a strict human chronology, though, is that his structure is dependent on frequent digressions (especially early on). Patience is required. Wallace demands that his reader walk through the equations, study the graphs and charts, and relearn college-level concepts to follow along on the exploration. Indeed, after one wrenching dip into Zenos paradoxes, Wallace spouts at his imagined complaining audience: "Deal." But the book should be deemed a success. If one grants him the attention he requires, Wallace has made the trip richly rewarding. --Patrick OKelley
  • Publish Date: 2003-10-17
  • Binding: Hardcover
  • Author: David Foster Wallace

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