The Unimaginable Mathematics of Borges' Library of Babel

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Oxford University Press, Aug 25, 2008 - Literary Criticism - 224 pages
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"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 Gödel, 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.
 

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User Review  - KXF - LibraryThing

The author does a very good job of explaining some of the mathematics that are implied from Borges' short story, and thus uses this as a generative point. The section on the manifold may be a bit ... Read full review

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A delightfully fun read. It is not often that I find a book so interesting and well-written that I intentionally delay reaching the last page for fear that the journey will end too soon! Unfortunately I have met the last page so I will be perusing Bloch's suggested reading list with the hopes of finding something that is equally as engaging. 

Contents

The Library of Babel
3
Contemplating Variations of the 23 Letters
11
Cataloging the Collection
30
The Book of Sand
45
The Universe Which Others Call the Library
57
Ambiguity and Access
93
Disorderings into Order
107
Structure into Meaning
120
CHAPTER 9 Openings
141
AppendixDissecting the 3Sphere
148
Notations
157
Notes
159
Glossary
165
Annotated Suggested Readings
175
Bibliography
181
Index
187

CHAPTER 8 Critical Points
126

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About the author (2008)

William Goldbloom Bloch is Professor of Mathematics at Wheaton College.

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