An outstanding biography of a man of incomprehensible brilliance.

JOURNEY TO THE EDGE OF REASON

THE LIFE OF KURT GÖDEL

One of the great geniuses of the 20th century, barely known outside academia today, receives a much-needed expert biographical treatment.

Regarding his subject, Kurt Gödel (1906-1978), Budiansky writes, “Einstein had called him ‘the greatest logician since Aristotle,’ and even in Princeton, that town with more Nobel Prize winners than traffic lights, his otherworldly genius had stood out.” Born to a prosperous family in Austria-Hungary, Gödel was brilliant from the start. He entered the University of Vienna in 1924 to study physics but became attracted to mathematics and philosophy. During the 1920s, Vienna was a world center for both disciplines, and Gödel’s talents were quickly recognized. Many readers are unaware that nothing in science is proven. The law of gravity states that things fall down only because things always fall down. No proof exists that they can’t fall up. Only mathematics produces absolute proofs. Mathematicians find this deeply satisfying, but they are still recovering from the shock of Gödel’s great discovery, in the early 1930s, that many systems in mathematics, while true, can’t be proven. Although a historic milestone, it’s an exceedingly difficult concept; readers with some background in college mathematics will be best-suited to comprehending the author’s explanations. Fortunately, Budiansky writes so well that this is no problem. Although Gödel remains the focus of this terrific book, the author delivers insightful portraits of a score of brilliant men and women, almost all German or Austrian, descriptions of their work and academic struggles in early-20th-century Europe, and their lives after Hitler destroyed German science. Many moved to the U.S., where they encountered a land of Eden, especially Princeton, “a picturesque pre-Revolutionary village attached to the university campus.” Barely escaping Vienna in 1940, Gödel settled at the Institute of Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey, became a close friend of Einstein, and continued groundbreaking work despite increasing periods of obsession and paranoid delusion, which eventually led to his death via slow starvation.

An outstanding biography of a man of incomprehensible brilliance.

Pub Date: May 11, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-324-00544-5

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: Jan. 28, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2021

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If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

THE 48 LAWS OF POWER

The authors have created a sort of anti-Book of Virtues in this encyclopedic compendium of the ways and means of power.

Everyone wants power and everyone is in a constant duplicitous game to gain more power at the expense of others, according to Greene, a screenwriter and former editor at Esquire (Elffers, a book packager, designed the volume, with its attractive marginalia). We live today as courtiers once did in royal courts: we must appear civil while attempting to crush all those around us. This power game can be played well or poorly, and in these 48 laws culled from the history and wisdom of the world’s greatest power players are the rules that must be followed to win. These laws boil down to being as ruthless, selfish, manipulative, and deceitful as possible. Each law, however, gets its own chapter: “Conceal Your Intentions,” “Always Say Less Than Necessary,” “Pose as a Friend, Work as a Spy,” and so on. Each chapter is conveniently broken down into sections on what happened to those who transgressed or observed the particular law, the key elements in this law, and ways to defensively reverse this law when it’s used against you. Quotations in the margins amplify the lesson being taught. While compelling in the way an auto accident might be, the book is simply nonsense. Rules often contradict each other. We are told, for instance, to “be conspicuous at all cost,” then told to “behave like others.” More seriously, Greene never really defines “power,” and he merely asserts, rather than offers evidence for, the Hobbesian world of all against all in which he insists we live. The world may be like this at times, but often it isn’t. To ask why this is so would be a far more useful project.

If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-670-88146-5

Page Count: 430

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...

NIGHT

Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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