a list compiled by Alex Kasman (College of Charleston)
|(quoted from The Book of Sand)|
"The line is made up of an infinite number of points;
the plane of an infinite number of lines;
the volume of an infinite number of planes;
the hypervolume of an infinite number of volumes.
. . . No, unquestionably this is not--more geometric--the best way of beginning my story. To claim that is it true is nowadays the convention of every made-up story. Mine, however, is true."
Thus begins this story. An old librarian comes to the narrator's house and shows him The Book of Sand, a thick book with very thin pages covered in a strage language. He claims that the book is infinite "like the sands" and that it is impossible to open it twice in the same page. The narrator offers him an old and valuable Bible in exchange for the book, and the offer is accepted. However, after some time the narratir come to be obsessed with the book and afraid of it, and finally leaves it in the basement of a public library, hoping to never find it again.
The description of the book makes it clear that its pages are supposed to be densely packed together, in the same way as the real numbers are. There is no last page.
I read this story a few years ago. Although not intensely math-related, it does bring up some interesting thoughts about infinity and the persistence of numbers. And of course, it is a very well-crafted story that tempts one to look around in the dark corners of their own local library for any hastily-stashed mysterious books.
Borges' works are truly something, and even though there isn't much math discussion going on explicitly, there's lots of labyrinths and doubles and other fun puzzles to try, so don't stop at the book of sand: there's so much more in this fantastic writer's work!
A wonderful story that ought to be more widely read.
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(Maintained by Alex Kasman,
College of Charleston)