rushthatspeaks: (Default)
Borrowed from [personal profile] dorothean.

This anthology from 1962 is a bit catch as catch can. Apparently Fadiman had done an anthology of Things Involving Math previously, which did surprisingly well, so he put together this second one, which consequently has a great many random components.

I mean, there's a section of sheet music.

It opens with a chunk of science fiction shorts which use math in some way in their plots, moves through comedic pieces, takes a brief detour into the aforementioned sheet music (the lyrics are about math), and has a sizable quantity of poetry, anecdotes, and aphorisms, all of this interspersed with occasional cartoons.

This means that you get Clarke's immortal 'The Nine Billion Names of God', along with a hunk of Lewis Carroll's not quite so immortal Sylvie and Bruno, along with Bertrand Russell giving a surprisingly numinous description of a mathematician's nightmare in which he is personally introduced to all the numbers, along with a murder mystery in which the solution is arrived at through a simplified version of Boolean algebra. Very much a curate's egg of a book-- the verse is almost uniformly terrible, and I think the cartoons may depend on concepts I do not understand (except a truly brilliant one about the meeting of parallel lines, which I will not attempt to describe). The SF stories depend a bit much on Golden Age conceptions of The Fourth Dimension (cue theremin, please).

But then you get things like the Bertrand Russell. I hadn't known he wrote an entire book of accounts of nightmares that various types of people might have. Based on this sample, it must be truly delightful. And there is, of course, an excerpt from The Phantom Tollbooth, which makes me remember that I haven't reread that this year. (For those who may have missed it: the A.V. Club's recent interview with Norton Juster, still alive, still working, still made of total awesome.)

And I like the concept, the approach which says 'I will throw everything I can possibly think of that is Popular Art Associated With Mathematics into this book and we will see what happens'. People are not usually this gonzo about anthology-assembling; I wish they were. It would be interesting.

That said, I only wish the songs were, you know, any good. And apparently we did not have women in 1962, let alone people of color; this is the sort of book in which persons who are not WASP males have not been invented yet, except for occasional WASP females, who are condescended at; you know, that sort of book, the kind which will be vastly surprised in the mid-sixties when it is informed that persons demographically unlike its authors have been present all along and sometimes read things. Still, I liked rather more than half the book, which is a fair average for an anthology, and, as I said, conceptually pleasant.


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