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.

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