DFW

Yesterday TMFMTL linked to an interview with David Foster Wallace about his new book on higher math. In it, Wallace shares his hopes:

that even a reader who hasn’t had a semester of college math will be able to follow enough to get why this stuff is a big deal and why it was beautiful, in a more substantive way than “A madman in an institution created this heavy-duty concept.” My justification for the parts that are hard is that at least it’s not just giving the reader pablum and abetting certain romantic but flabby ideas about madness and genius and certain mathematical concepts being so forbidden that they drive people crazy.

Jim Holt reviews the book in this week’s New Yorker, saying that unlike other books in the same vein, Wallace’s:

can’t quite be described as popularization. Wallace assures us that it is “a piece of pop technical writing,” and that his own math background doesn’t go much beyond high school. And yet he has refused to make the usual compromises. “Everything and More” is sometimes as dense as a math textbook, though rather more chaotic. I have never come across a popular book about infinity that packs so much technical detail—especially one that purports to be “compact.” …. Still, Wallace’s enthusiasm for the theory of infinity is evident on every page (not least in his conviction that Cantor is “the most important mathematician of the nineteenth century,” a view that few mathematicians or intellectual historians would agree with). And if he is sometimes over his head it is because he has chosen to wade through the deepest waters.

(Via Scott.)


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