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15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A wonderful read for all aspiring thinkers
The Atlanta Journal Constitution describes Gödel, Escher, Bach (GEB) as "A huge, sprawling literary marvel, a philosophy book, disguised as a book of entertainment, disguised as a book of instruction." That is the best one line description of this book that anybody could give. GEB is without a doubt the most interesting mathematical book that I have ever...
Published on July 9 2004 by Amazon Customer

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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars The Book that Swallowed me Whole
I first started reading G, E, B at the recommendation of a friend. I did not start at the conventional beginning, but instead with the TNT chapter. I took my time, insisting that I at least tried to understand everything said. Finishing this chapter with a huge sigh of relief, I read on to the next, and the next. Having finished this outstanding book, I thought about what...
Published on Feb. 4 2002 by Pavlov


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15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A wonderful read for all aspiring thinkers, July 9 2004
By 
Amazon Customer (Lebanon, IN United States) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Godel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid (Paperback)
The Atlanta Journal Constitution describes Gödel, Escher, Bach (GEB) as "A huge, sprawling literary marvel, a philosophy book, disguised as a book of entertainment, disguised as a book of instruction." That is the best one line description of this book that anybody could give. GEB is without a doubt the most interesting mathematical book that I have ever read, quickly making its place into the Top 5 books I have ever read.
The introduction of the book, "Introduction: A Musico-Logical Offering" begins by quickly discussing the three main participants in the book, Gödel, Escher, and Bach. Gödel was a mathematician who founded Gödel's Incompleteness Theorem, which states, as Hofstadter paraphrases, "All consistent axiomatic formulations of number theory include undecidable propositions." This is what Hofstadter calls the pearl. This is one example of one of the recurring themes in GEB, strange loops.
Strange loops occur when you move up or down in a hierarchical manner and eventually end up exactly where you started. The first example of a strange loop comes from Bach's Endlessly rising canon. This is a musical piece that continues to rise in key, modulating through the entire chromatic scale, ending at the same key with which he began. To emphasize the loop Bach wrote in the margin, "As the modulation rises, so may the King's Glory."
The third loop in the introduction comes from an artist, Escher. Escher is famous for his paintings of paradoxes. A good example is his Waterfall; Hofstadter gives many examples of Escher's work, which truly exemplify the strange loop phenomenon.
One feature of GEB, which I was particularly fond of, is the 'little stories' in between each chapter of the book. These stories which star Achilles and the Tortoise of Lewis Carroll fame, are illustrations of the points which Hofstadter brings out in the chapters. They also serve as a guidepost to the careful reader who finds clues buried inside of these sections. Hofstadter introduces these stories by reproducing "What the Tortoise Said to Achilles" by Lewis Carroll. This illustrates Zeno's paradox, another example of a strange loop.
In GEB Hofstadter comments on the trouble author's have with people skipping to the end of the book and reading the ending. He suggests that a solution to this would be to print a series of blank pages at the end, but then the reader would turn through the blank pages and find the last one with text on it. So he says to print gibberish throughout those blank pages, again a human would be smart enough to find the end of the gibberish and read there. He finally suggests that authors need to write many pages more of text than the book requires just fooling the reader into having to read the entire book. Perhaps Hofstadter employs this technique.
GEB is in itself a strange loop. It talks about the interconnectedness of things always getting more and more in depth about the topic at hand. However you are frequently brought back to the same point, similarly to Escher's paintings, Bach's rising canon, and Gödel's Incompleteness theorem. A book, which is filled with puzzles and riddles for the reader to find and answer, GEB, is a magnificently captivating book.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars overrated, but still very good, Feb. 28 2004
By A Customer
This review is from: Godel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid (Paperback)
No book could live up to this hype and praise, but still very worthwhile. It is best when describing difficult concepts of logic and computer science, weak when dragging in Zen and a tedious detour into molecular biology.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant and *still* misunderstood!, June 30 2003
By 
Michael J. Edelman (Huntington Woods, MI USA) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Godel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid (Paperback)
I've been reading reviews of GEB for years, and the most fascinating thing about them, aprt from the near-uniform enthusiasm of the readers, is that almost none of the enthusiatic readers have any idea of what the book is actually about! The typical reader seesm to think of GEB as a jouyous romp through any number of fascinating bits of logic, math and science without any idea as to what Hofstader's actually doing.
Yes, it's about Goedel, and recursion, and "strange loops", and linguistics Bach and ants and all that- but only trivially. The bulk of the book is taken up with what amounts to a very entertaining tutorial that sets the reader up for the real thesis of the book. What Hofstadter has attempted in GEB is nothing less than a concise, bottom-up theory of mind. You can read it as a theory of AI, or a theory of human intelligence, but either way he's telling you how to construct an intelligent entity.
True, he doesn't really have a theory of *how* a self-aware being should arise from his metaphorical anthill, but then, neither does anyone else. But he does have a very good story as to how intelligence does arise in such conditions.
If you've read this book before without understanding what his aim was, read it again, with that notion in mind. And if you haven't read it, and you're the sort of person who enjoys mathematic and scientific amusements of any sort, well, read it and discover how much fun a speculative theory can be.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars My third copy, May 25 2002
By A Customer
This review is from: Godel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid (Paperback)
I have just purchased my third copy of this book. I bought the first copy when it first came out decades ago.
Why, you ask 3 copies -- because I lent my two previous copies out to people who lent them out to people who ...
They never came back.
The book is that good that I'm willing to buy another copy.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars literary style demonstrates book's themes, Nov. 28 2001
By 
brianvotaw (astoria, ny United States) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Godel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid (Paperback)
a cursory glance at a random passage of godel, escher, and bach, will likely appear to be jabberwocky, with its unapologetic, evolving vocabulary and sparkles of inside jokes based on such, this is ironic, because the right arm of this book is recursion, which implies that the whole is implied by each part, far from while reading, one most certainly must read godel, escher, and bach in its sequential order, too funny
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Ricercar, Oct. 4 2001
By 
llarq (Sandy, Utah, USA) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Godel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid (Paperback)
This masterpiece has changed the way I think. I pity those have only read it once, or, even worse, didn't finish it. Only on the second reading can you understand that the entire book is itself a glorious ricercar and an endlessly rising canon. If you don't understand what I mean, read the book. And read it again, and again, and. . . .
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars hasn't aged well..., Oct. 6 2002
By A Customer
This review is from: Godel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid (Paperback)
When this book first came out, I, along with probably most mathematically and scientifically minded people of my generation, would certainly have considered it one of the best books ever written. Hofstadter has refined the task of writing a book into almost an art form. Drawing on the central theme of "strange loops" (ideas that loop back on themselves in a paradoxical manner, as might be seen in the art of M.C. Escher), Hofstadter successfully draws together ideas from a large variety of different human pursuits. An important idea--shown to be connected to other ideas in artificial intelligence, music, and art--is Godel's incompleteness theorem, which shows that there are limits on our ability to prove concepts that may, nevertheless, be true. This, too, is based on a "strange loop"--these loops seem to crop up everywhere and Hofstadter spends a lot of the book showing how they are pretty much fundamental to human knowledge.
However, after reading the new preface in this 20th anniversary edition, I'm left with the sense that this once great book is now merely good. For one thing, Hofstadter seems to have evolved from a brilliant young man with a lot of great ideas into a somewhat cantakerous middle-aged man. He seems angry at the New York Times, and his readers, for not fully understanding the central message of the book. Yet he also excuses himself from making any attempt to update the book or bring the ideas in line with many of the enormous changes that have happened over the last 20+ years. It seems surprising to me that Hofstadter would constrain his own book to having only one central message--surely he should understand that a book of this complexity will mean many things to many different people, and that indeed is the reason for its popularity.
So, I still highly recommend this book, but I'm left just a little disappointed that Hofstadter seems somewhat at war with his readers and as a result, won't attempt to update the book or try to help us reconcile the many events of the last 20 years with the themes of his book.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars The Book that Swallowed me Whole, Feb. 4 2002
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This review is from: Godel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid (Paperback)
I first started reading G, E, B at the recommendation of a friend. I did not start at the conventional beginning, but instead with the TNT chapter. I took my time, insisting that I at least tried to understand everything said. Finishing this chapter with a huge sigh of relief, I read on to the next, and the next. Having finished this outstanding book, I thought about what I had learnt. The Answer? Absolutely nothing useful, except that nothing is definitive, and that there are an infinite number of perceptions. I will read this book again in a year or so, not to understand more, or to learn anything of "real" value, but to be swallowed again and again in the thoughts, and ideas of some of our greatest, most contraversial minds. Don't try to disprove what is said in this book, or you could well succeed. Just allow yourself to be swept away by the magic of the mind.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Multi-faceted Thesis, Nov. 28 2003
This review is from: Godel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid (Paperback)
Ancient runic languages scrawled onto South Pacific stones. Gödel's Incompleteness Theorum. Shifted perspectives in artistic pencil pictures. Modern artificial intelligence research. Masterpieces of Baroque harmony.
It's not often that bestselling books manage to link all of the above items in a highly satisfying blend of fact and philosophy, but Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid defies both convention and classification.
The book is such a sprawling, wide-ranging argument that it's difficult to know where to start. Personally, I most enjoyed the chapters on the location of meaning within symbols; Hofstadter's description of the essential elements of a message's structure caught my interest because it seemed applicable in many fields: literature, cryptography, and psychology, to start. I was also quite intrigued by his exploration of the brain's mode of operation: sense impressions stored as complex 'symbols.' Fascinating. The long sections on mathematics and the often goofy dialogue chapters were trying, yes, but persevere; better parts lie in store.
Hofstadter's case is best made when he follow a topic through many disciplines. Though I ultimately disagree with his position on the feasibility of artificial intelligence, he has produced a stimulating read, and I am thankful for it. It is far superior to my other late-night literary conquest of the summer (Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix) and I recommend it to anyone with pondering time to spare.
Oh, and as a side note: don't buy Yudkowsky's review. Nothing personal, but this isn't the only thinking man's book out there. It just investigates so many nooks and crannies that almost anyone can find something to further pursue.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant, witty, convincing, May 22 2000
This review is from: Godel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid (Paperback)
There are few books composed in academia that cover a particularly wide range of subjects. Most, written by professors for students of a specific class, are rather focused and narrow, with a very stoic style and less than artistic prose.
Douglas Hofstadter's Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid is not one of them. It has an eccentric style, riddled with informal references, unscholarly depictions, and a rather sketchy curriculum, if used for a class. That is, however, what makes it so readable.
Its chapters are composed of two sections: a dialogue and an exposition. The former is a device borrowed jointly from Galileo (who used them to present propositions that might be considered heresy without attributing them to himself), and Lewis Carroll (who originated the characters in the Hofstadter book, Mr. Tortoise and Achilles). These dialogues are quirky and whimsical, but serve well as introductions to the rest of the material. Furthermore, they frequently can be viewed from two angles, as it were: the characters inside usually have erudite conversations about topics that Hofstadter discusses later in the exposition, but also the actual format and content of the story can be an indirect self-reference to the subject of the following chapter. For instance, in one story, Mr. Tortoise and Achilles discuss the multiple layers of harmony that J. S. Bach fugues contain, whilst they are whisked through a multiple-layer story, in which they transcend multiple layers of M. C. Escher lithographs. These dialogues are often filled with a rather high-brow wit that makes them so charming to read, and yet they succeed brilliantly at illustrating the difficult points that Hofstadter dissects later in the actual chapter.
But don't let the wit mislead you, this book certainly is curriculum material. Hofstadter's ability to painlessly explain extraordinarily complex ideas is illustrated by his expositions. They span the broadest material of any book I've ever read. Starting at Gödel's Theory of Incompleteness in Formal Systems, it spreads to Zen Buddhism, to the oddities in the lithographs of M. C. Escher, to harmony in the music of J. S. Bach, to molecular biology, to modern art, to artificial intelligence, to cryptology and so on. And yet Hofstadter's phenomenal talent is such that he can tie all of these dissidents together seamlessly with certain fundamental strands: recursivity, self-reference and formalization.
In truth, it's a marvel that Hofstadter can fit all of that in 777 pages, and yet it flows smoothly from start to finish. A remarkable work, superlative in its field ... whatever that may be.
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Godel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid
Godel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid by Douglas R. Hofstadter (Paperback - Feb. 5 1999)
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