Books I am Way, Way Late On

I am currently, finally reading a book that most of you who know how much of a geek I am probably already assumed I had read:  Geodel- Escher- Bach.  I guess I was turned off by how hip the book was when it came out, so I assumed it was some new age goofiness.  As many of you know, it turns out to be a very readable book on modern number theory and all sorts of related mathematical topics.  I'm really enjoying it.

But I would add that it is a blessing I waited until today to read it.  20 years ago I was way to impatient to really savor and appreciate it.  The book is working on 3 or 4 levels at the same time at every turn, and I am not sure I would have been mature enough to appreciate it earlier.  I can just see myself screaming, "and what's the deal with this stupid turtle?"

I had a similar reaction after recently reading Les Miserables.  I couldn't understand it 30 years ago - a 100 pages in and we are still talking about this freaking priest and haven't met the main characters yet?  What gives?  Others may have been more mature at 17, but I needed a few decades to really appreciate it.  This time around, I thought the book was beautiful.  Really enjoyed it.

Next up in this vein?  Probably Foucault's Pendulum, which I pick up and give up on every decade or so.


  1. Betelgeuse:

    You write

    "Next up in this vein? Probably Foucault’s Pendulum, which I pick up and give up on every decade or so."

    In the spirit of GEB and Hofstadter's love of riddles, I think you need to think for a while about the following question.

    "Why does Eco preface each chapter with a quotation in Hebrew which he obviously knows only 1% at most of his readers will be able to understand?"

    Solve this and you will realise why you have so far given up on the book each time.


  2. Kyle Bennett:

    The nice thing about books is that you're allowed to read them more than once. Introspecting on how your own understanding of the same work evolves is an educational experience, and multiple readings in itself adds a depth of understanding that is not possible from a single reading at any age. It makes me regret not reading, 20 years ago, some books that I would not have appreciated the same way I could today. On the other hand, there's hundreds and hundreds of books I've read over the last 20 years that I have not yet read a second time, so all is not lost.

    But this reminds me, time to give GEB another shot, it's been about 15 years since I read it.

    Beetlejuice, I haven't read Foucault's Pendulum yet, and you've given me an extra bit to think about when I eventually do.

  3. M Ritenour:

    Lurker here...enjoy your blog!

    I just finished reading:

    "Us and Them: The Science of Identity" by David Berreby about tribalism (particularly relevant in the current Climategate situation)

    "Grammatical Man : Information, Entropy, Language and Life" by Jeremy Campbell is on my "try again" list, particularly in light of the data selection and analysis issues with Climate science. I will be adding the two you mentioned, also.

  4. mhaley:

    interesting idea of going back and reading books that you read 20 years ago--never thought of that but now I think I am going to.

  5. David:

    GEB is my favorite work of secular nonfiction. If the number theory gets a little hairy in the middle, a technique I found useful was to read the preceding dialogue a couple extra times...

  6. Blake Riley:

    I'd also recommend Hofstadter's other works. I am reading Le Ton beau de Marot right now for the first time, and it is just as deep and exhilarating as GEB. Nominally about translating a single poem of Clement Marot's, it's half memoir and half philosophy of language.

  7. John Anderson:

    If you haven't already read it, I highly suggest "The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind" by Julian Jaynes.

  8. Joe R Pio:

    "Geodel" ??? Perhaps you meant "Goedel".

    Gödel, Escher, Bach - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia,_Escher,_Bach

  9. Scott B:

    Reading Orwell's "1984" in high school with the title date 2 years away not only missed the romance (how was that possible?) but the theme of power and corruption. Read after a few decades of experience it explains behavior not only in gov'ts but also corporations, PTA's and other organizations.

  10. Jeffrey Ellis:

    What a coincidence. I'm currently reading GEB for the first time as well. And the trick to Foucalt's Pendulum is to skim through the longwinded literature esoterica parts that are booooooooring.

  11. Texas_Engineer:

    I have read GEB three times. the first in college (60's). Then about 15 years later. Then in about 2002. Each time I got new insights. Once I learned about recursion and self reference from GEB I started seeing evidence of them everywhere.

    And I became a lifelong fan of Escher's works and Bach. Tried to understand Godel's mathematics too but that is much more of a challenge.

  12. Jens Fiederer:

    As long as you're in a Hofstadter mood, try "I Am A Strange Loop" which I just finished reading a month ago.

    Foucault's Pendulum was a good, fun, read ... but not nearly as memorable. Still, my current bar team name is based on the book (originally "Tetrapiloctomites", those capable of splitting a hair four ways, we shortened it to "Piloctomites").

  13. Uncle Bill:

    Ha! I recently picked up Foucault's Pendulum for the second time myself. I only did so because I loved Name of the Rose, and could not believe that Eco would write such an incomprehensible book. I'm about 1/4 of the way through it this time, and I still have to make a conscious effort to make myself pick it up.

  14. Elliot:

    Interesting choices all around. I flagged before getting too far into GEB but I did meet D.H. hiself. A good friend of mine wnet to school with him and recalls him as "Ah yes, ol' Doug-ey".

    As always I reccomend Science and Human values by Bronowski, but I'm lately more interested in a book that takes String Theory to task with thourough skepticism. This is "Not Even Wrong". As with most skeptical books this is one of the best teaching texts you can find, since it gives the history plus details plus context of the various currents in big physics.

    Guess I'll go and look at this Foucalt tract that ya'll are focused on.


  15. David Wilbur:

    All great books, loved many times over, over the years. The problem I have found with reading or re-reading Eco, Hofstadter and others of their thoughtful ilk is that the ordinary conversations of the day become surreal (Tiger Woods, etc.) when your mind is churning.

  16. Justin:

    Definitely read Foucault's Pendulum. The final 100 pages make it all worthwhile. I read it for a second time a couple years ago and appreciated it more knowing that the history lesson eventually transitioned to plot.

  17. Brian Knowles:

    I suppose you'v read 'Gravity's Rainbow'?

  18. OBloodyhell:

    Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.

    It's even available for free (legally, I mean), though there's a lot to be said for something you can hold in your hands, as ever:

    It should be required reading in high school, then again at thirty, for anyone with an IQ in excess of 110 (and encouraged for anyone with a lower IQ) - I don't say that intending to suggest intellectual snobbery, it's just that it speaks to people subject to intellectual flaws of single-form thinking (Zen/Motorcycle Maintenance being the two forms, you'll have to read it if you want more info -- or at least the wiki article if you want the cliff notes version, which I don't recommend)