The Unimaginable Mathematics of Borges' Library of Babel

The Unimaginable Mathematics of Borges' Library of Babel

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Description

The Library of Babel is arguably Jorge Luis Borges' best known story-memorialized along with Borges on an Argentine postage stamp. Now, in The Unimaginable Mathematics of Borges' Library of Babel, William Goldbloom Bloch takes readers on a fascinating tour of the mathematical ideas hidden within one of the classic works of modern literature. Written in the vein of Douglas R. Hofstadter's Pulitzer Prize-winning Godel, Escher, Bach, this original and imaginative book sheds light on one of Borges' most complex, richly layered works. Bloch begins each chapter with a mathematical idea-combinatorics, topology, geometry, information theory-followed by examples and illustrations that put flesh on the theoretical bones. In this way, he provides many fascinating insights into Borges' Library. He explains, for instance, a straightforward way to calculate how many books are in the Library-an easily notated but literally unimaginable number-and also shows that, if each book were the size of a grain of sand, the entire universe could only hold a fraction of the books in the Library. Indeed, if each book were the size of a proton, our universe would still not be big enough to hold anywhere near all the books. Given Borges' well-known affection for mathematics, this exploration of the story through the eyes of a humanistic mathematician makes a unique and important contribution to the body of Borgesian criticism. Bloch not only illuminates one of the great short stories of modern literature but also exposes the reader-including those more inclined to the literary world-to many intriguing and entrancing mathematical ideas.show more

Product details

  • Hardback | 224 pages
  • 142.24 x 210.82 x 25.4mm | 362.87g
  • Oxford University Press Inc
  • New York, United States
  • English
  • 60 line illustrations
  • 0195334574
  • 9780195334579
  • 311,357

Review quote

"Mr. Bloch, professor of mathematics at Wheaton College, has woven an elegant, ingenious, scholarly interpretation of Borges's text that contradicts the disingenuous 'unimaginable' of his title."--New York Sun"For the reader of Borges, some of Bloch's observations may offer a useful new way of engaging with the themes of the fiction." -- American Scientist"You need no advanced mathematics to understand 'The Library of Babel' but chances are good that if you like the story, you'll enjoy Professor Bloch's excursions." -- Mathematical Association of America Review"Given Borges' well-known affection for mathematics, this exploration of the story through the eyes of a humanistic mathematician makes a unique and important contribution to the body of Borgesian criticism. Bloch not only illuminates one of the great short stories of modern literature, but also exposes the reader - including those more inclined to the literary world - to many intriguing and entrancing mathematical ideas."--Mathematical Reviews "Mr. Bloch, professor of mathematics at Wheaton College, has woven an elegant, ingenious, scholarly interpretation of Borges's text that contradicts the disingenuous 'unimaginable' of his title."--New York Sun"For the reader of Borges, some of Bloch's observations may offer a useful new way of engaging with the themes of the fiction." -- American Scientist"You need no advanced mathematics to understand 'The Library of Babel' but chances are good that if you like the story, you'll enjoy Professor Bloch's excursions." -- Mathematical Association of America Review"Given Borges' well-known affection for mathematics, this exploration of the story through the eyes of a humanistic mathematician makes a unique and important contribution to the body of Borgesian criticism. Bloch not only illuminates one of the great short stories of modern literature, but also exposes the reader - including those more inclined to the literary world - to many intriguing and entrancing mathematical ideas."--Mathematical Reviews "Mr. Bloch, professor of mathematics at Wheaton College, has woven an elegant, ingenious, scholarly interpretation of Borges's text that contradicts the disingenuous 'unimaginable' of his title."--New York Sun "For the reader of Borges, however, some of Bloch's observations may offer a useful new way of engaging with the themes of the fiction." -- American Scientist "You need no advanced mathematics to understand 'The Library of Babel' but chances are good that if you like the story, you'll enjoy Professor Bloch's excursions." -- Mathematical Association of America Reviewshow more

About W.L. Bloch

William Goldbloom Bloch is Professor of Mathematics at Wheaton College.show more

Table of contents

Preface ; Introduction ; Combinatorics: Contemplating Variations of the 23 Letter ; Topology and Cosmology: The Universe (Which Others Call the Library) ; Information Theory: Cataloging the Collection ; Geometry and Graph Theory: Ambiguity and Access ; Real Analysis: The Book of Sand ; More Combinatorics: Disorderings into Order ; A Homomorphism: Structure into Meaning ; Critical Points ; Openings ; Acknowledgements ; Appendix IThe Logos of Logarithms ; Appendix IIFlat-Out Disoriented ; Appendix IIIPeeling the 3-Sphere ; Appendix IVA Labyrinth, not a Maze ; Appendix VAn Example of the Ars Combinatoria ; Bibliographyshow more

Rating details

175 ratings
3.92 out of 5 stars
5 26% (45)
4 47% (82)
3 23% (40)
2 3% (6)
1 1% (2)
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