|In this "sequel" to Flatland, popular
mathematics writer Ian Stewart lets us accompany the granddaugther of the
original "A. Square" who starred in original classic, as she learns about
fractal dimensions, new developments in mathematical physics, and other
mathematical wonders unknown to Abbott.
In general, it is a pretty good read, which is really more
than I expected of it. It is fun and imaginitive. It is funny (though
many of the jokes are British `in-jokes' that you won't get unless you are
really know your English TV shows and railways). It covers a lot of topics
(though as many other readers have commented, it doesn't really cover
anything "new"...just the same topics that Stewart has written about
elsewhere in non-fictional formats.)
In fact, I really only have three complaints about the book, one of which
Stewart specifically addresses himself. My first problem with it is that
it seems a bit to "gutsy" to attempt to follow up a classic book in this
way, but as the author assures us in the preface, we can go look at the
classic and see that it remains unchanged: he has not altered a word in the
original by attempting this sequel. My second problem with this book is
that it is a bit too cute...I find myself reading it while squinting
my eyes to shield myself from the blinding cuteness. Finally, and most
seriously, the problem is that while Abbott's Flatland was clearly well
suited for demonstrating to people the idea of higher dimensional spaces
(since our own world seems "higher" dimensional to its flat inhabitants),
there is no particular reason to use this set up to introduce most of the
mathematical topics covered here. (Except, I suppose, to be cute!)
"Excellent conceptual material. I have
read much about mathematics and
string theory. I am just a stupid
college freshman but I have read
quite a bit and even though I knew
most of the stuff in this book there
are some very interesting conceptual
tools presented. Plus it is fun to
read. Tons of interesting puns.
I very much like the humour Ian Stewart
uses while talking about mathematics
and fysics. But I specially appreciated
how he continued and expanded the story
written by Abbott in Flatland.
I really enjoyed reading this book.
It was entertaining and educational, but it wasn't really a work of fiction. It was a long parable illustrating fascinating ideas about geometry. Very well written, but there was no actual story.
The characters didn't desire something and face obstacles to the realization of their respective desiderata, with the level of tension steadily increasing as we the readers are swept along in the story, feeling that tension rising, observing those characters as they ultimately either succeed or fail but are, nevertheless changed in some way by their struggle. That's what fiction is all about.
I don't mean to give the impression that it's a bad book. It's a good book, but the story was always subservient to the math; it existed to illustrate the ideas. Great ideas, cleverly presented, but the story was flat and the characters two dimensional. I'm sorry about that last comment, but really, who could resist?
This is a delightful romp through non-Euclidean geometry, and it makes difficult concepts accessible. True, there's not much of a plot, but the dialogue and slight tension between Victoria Line and her guide keeps the tale from being purely didactic and makes it light-hearted instead. This book seems to me like a great way to introduce eager middle or high school kids to the idea that there's a lot more to math than you ever thought or to refresh more jaded adults who think of math as boring.