Everything and More: A Compact History of Infinity
By David Foster Wallace
This guide to the beauty of the “shadowlands” of math is “[p]art history, part philosophy, part love letter to the study of mathematics…an illuminating tour of infinity.”
I’m curious to see how DFW’s unique style comes through in a book-length nonfiction work. At first glance, it seems compact-yet-expansive in a way only he could manage.
Neal Stephenson’s introduction includes a nice touch: a taxonomy of “books-about-real-science-for-non-specialist-readers”.
The book begins with with a “Small But Necessary Foreword”, framing the structure and explaining things like the frequent “IYI” (if you’re interested) optional technical sidebars.
(A sidebar of my own: wow, the abbreviations! Technical writing, even for the lay-ish reader, so often brims with interesting language!)
The main text proceeds almost with no warning — rather than chapters it’s organized into numbered sections, in the list-like logical argument style I associate with dense math or philosophy papers.
DFW jumps right into history of math, logic, and number theory, warmup for the book’s big ideas; it accelerates from there, launching into geometric diagrams, equations, and complex math, with — no surprise — plenty of stylistic flourishes along the way.