Troy Patterson
October 10, 2003 AT 04:00 AM EDT

Everything and More: A Compact History of Infinity

type
Book
Current Status
In Season
author
David Foster Wallace
genre
Nonfiction

We gave it a B+

In an inspired bit of stunt casting, the creators of ”Great Discoveries” (a new series in which name-brand authors present histories of scientific breakthroughs) have paired the ”Infinite Jest” novelist with Georg Cantor, the inventor of transfinite math. Wallace, who professes to have a ”medium-strong amateur interest in math and formal systems,” lays everything out clearly — the theories, axioms, proofs, ancient paradoxes of infinity. He even tells you which bits are skippable by, alternately, the math savvy and the calculus-impaired. It’s common to say that gripping books built of fact read like novels; wonderfully, this one doesn’t: Wallace’s straightforward engagement with ultimate abstractions and unambiguous truths offers a heady pleasure distinct from that of fiction.

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