Everything and More: A Compact History of Infinity by David Foster Wallace

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 07, 2003

Sweet howling fantods! It's a new book by David Foster Wallace called Everything and More: A Compact History of 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.

It's from a new series of books called Great Discoveries that aims to "[bring] together renowned writers from diverse backgrounds to tell the stories of crucial scientific breakthroughs". I'll take more of that, please.