living in a gorgeous mathy future

Posted in books, math on February 8th, 2009 by fabienne

i was reluctant to start reading the book Anathem by Neal Stephenson because i was afraid that i would be depressed about living in the present. i voiced my apprehension to the author at a book reading here in Berlin. he thought it was a silly fear, and thus i started absorbing the pithy mathtastic volume. i usually jot down page numbers of my favorite passages at the front of the book, but since this one had been autographed and dedicated to me, i figured i shouldn’t sully it with my usual pencil scratches. [sidenote: why aren’t there ebook readers where i can annotate (underline and scrawl notes in the margin) and do full text search yet? get on it ebook creators.] so i twittered my three month journey through this mathic universe. notable quotes include:

p. 171: “When I recited the 127th through 283rd digits of pi, the fight went out of them.”

p. 210: “his plan had another advantage as well: it was flagrantly silly.” recreating battles with weeds vs. garden. awesome.

p. 351: “…desperate men living on the top of a mountain, eating lichens.”

p. 642: “We are speaking of an infinitesimal snatch of time just after the Big Bang…”

p.721: “anything else, as long as i have a channel open?” “is it a private channel?” “don’t be ridiculous,” he pointed out.

…and on page 799 reference to euclid’s proof that the square root of two is an irrational number. this was an incredible read, one which i hadn’t anticipated i would enjoy, but in the end it wasn’t the future world or its mathy inhabitants that drove the story. as always, it was the incredible characters that propel a narrative that only stephenson can weave into a cohesive story. i loved the whole journey.

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