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3.0 out of 5 stars
Flatterland: Like Flatland Only More So
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Though =Flatland=, by Edwin Abbott^2 100 years ago, was exclusively about 2 things: satirizing Victorian English society and explaining a 4th Euclidean dimension, Ian Stewart's =Flatterland= is about all sorts of geometries that mathematicians play in: finite projective geometries, in which there are a finite number of points and lines, interacting in specific ways; discrete binary geometries, which described digital encoding and the error-correcting codes used in things such as CDs and DVDs; hyperbolic geometry, in which there are and infinite number of line parallel to a particular line, all going through the same point (as opposed to the usual one parallel line); and on and on and on.
However, as a math grad student, I found the treatment too shallow, the puns too egregious (especially when I saw them coming) and too unrelenting (though now I've got plenty of math jokes to add to my arsenal), and some of the descriptions are somewhat confusing -- the only reason I knew what was going on is that =I knew= all these subjects from mathematics before. And, being a physics major in my undergrad life, I wasn't thrown off by the veering into modern physics topics.
This book is more like a travel brochure - letting you know what exciting sights are to be found in the strange lands of Geometry - but not giving you much of an experience of what's there. I think this book would be a great gift for a child who's interested in math - sure, they won't understand alot of it (and they'll miss many of the puns), but then my favorite math book, =Godel, Escher, Bach=, was given to me when I was 12, and I grew into it over the years through rereading it and learning more stuff in school. I can see this book as inspiring kids to learn more about strange concepts in math, but it would be nice to have a list of followup books for doing some =real= exploring as opposed to this travel guide. (I recommend Rudy Rucker's book =The 4th Dimension= for those who want to do more thinking about the 4th dimension).
If you're a math teacher, this book can come in handy in providing was to visualize some very odd concepts in math. And, again, there's the puns that you can try out on your class.
For those interested in getting a feel for what math is about, there's actually a great secret revealed inside the book - just what makes something a geometry. The answer doesn't seem evident when one compares the odd spaces and places visited by Victoria Line and the Spacehopper, but it does become clear. I will not give that secret away, but I will give another secret away that is also shown by the book - yes, mathematicians love to play with their math.
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on June 21, 2004
I've used Flatland and Sphereland in my High School Pre-Calculus class. They're both entertaining books, but also ones that are a bit elementary for the class. I would say they are written for entertainment first, enlightenment second. Flatterland is NOT the same type of book. I have never been an Ian Stewart fan, but I do like this book. While the first two books are easy enough for a 7th grade student to understand, the topics in this book will require most high school students to be walked through the material. It's not an easy read. I will use this book with some of my students in the future, but only those that enjoy a challenge. It's true that the book tries to cover too much, but I think you should view it as a survey of modern mathematics. In my opinion, this is some of the best writing I've seen from Stewart, but definitely not up to the literary level set by Flatland and Sphereland.
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on November 12, 2001
The book deserves credit for making the reader aware of multidimensionality around us right now. The author has an annoying habit of writing people's names as First name followed by family name with no spaces, like Ianstewart.
This is not innovative or clever, just annoying. Like a speedbump.
Also bizarrely chose to use 'People' instead of 'Person'. Similar syntatical choices slowed the reader down.
If you want a better layman's tour of geometry that does not insult your intelligence, try the 'Shape of Space' by Jeffrey Weeks. Admittedly, these books cover somewhat different ground, but Weeks' format is far more engaging.
What made the original Flatland interesting to this reviewer was the realization that *we* live in Flatland. I got no such sense of wonder after reading Flatterland.
The whole book felt rather forced to me.
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A strange book. Chock full of interesting information but hard to read.
After reading, rereading much of the book, my feeling is this book needs an editor. Oh after one fights the poor puns, the 'creative' spellings and the curse of an author who seems to want the reader to discover everything the author knows ... and do it 'right now' ... the information's all there if ones willing to use 'nitogyrcin' to free it up.
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on June 2, 2001
I would have liked a bit more discussion on some of the topics, and a lot less of the "cutesy" word play. The "Space" Girls and other laboured puns actually took away from the read.
But there is some interesting stuff in here. Fairly high level overview. Relatively easy to understand.
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