I learned about this book, by David Forster Wallace, from reading essays in the Neal Stephenson book. The description sounded very interesting – a history of the concept of “infinity” (a favorite topic of mine). Plus, David Foster Wallace was a famous writer, deeply admired by many, and I have never read any of his books.

As expected, the book started with the discussion of Zeno’s Paradox. These paradoxes deal with the infinitely small – since Zeno ask how can an arrow move anywhere, since it first have to go half way, and to get to half way pointÂ it has to get to one quarter way point and so on. So it’s path becomes an infinite sum of infinitely small distances.

The other kind of infinity is the large one. The discussion of this one eventually lead to the work of Georg Cantor on transfinite numbers.

Although the topic of the book is fascinating, and the author clearly mastered the subject, the style of the writing got in the way. So much so I gave up after about 100 pages. What I found most annoying was when David Foster Wallace made up his own abbreviations for random terms and used these throughout the text. In fact early on he a had a two page glossary of these and you needed to refer to them constantly.

But he did not stick to this initial list. He kept creating more abbreviations as he went along. After while this became too distracting to read. I gave up when I came to a section where he referred to Galileo Galilei as “GG”.

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