Essays That Make Sense of the Infinite and the Infinitesimal

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Holt’s example is plain: Think well, eat well and seek out those who will nourish and challenge you. It’s this conviviality, and a crispness of style, that distinguish him as a popularizer of some very redoubtable mathematics and science. “My ideal is the cocktail-party chat,” he writes in the preface to his new essay collection, “When Einstein Walked with Gödel,” “getting across a profound idea in a brisk and amusing way to an interested friend by stripping it down to its essence (perhaps with a few swift pencil strokes on a napkin). The goal is to enlighten the newcomer while providing a novel twist that will please the expert. And never to bore.”

In these pieces, plucked from the last 20 years, Holt takes on infinity and the , the illusion of time, the birth of eugenics, the so-called new atheism, smartphones and distraction. It is an elegant history of recent ideas. There are a few historical correctives — he dismantles the notion that Ada Lovelace, the daughter of Lord Byron, was the first computer programmer. But he generally prefers to perch in the middle of a muddle — say, the string theory wars — and hear evidence from both sides without rushing to adjudication.

www.nytimes.com/2018/05/15/books/review/review-when-einstein-walked-with-godel-jim-holt.html

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1 year ago

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