|In 1884, an amiably eccentric clergyman and literary scholar named Edwin Abbott Abbott published an odd philosophical novel called Flatland, in which he explored such things as four-dimensional mathematics and gently satirized some of the orthodoxies of his time. The book went on to be a bestseller in Victorian England, and it has remained in print ever since.
With Flatterland, Ian Stewart, an amiable professor of mathematics at the University of Warwick, updates the science of Flatland, adding literally countless dimensions to Abbott's scheme of things ("Your world has not just four dimensions," one of his characters proclaims, "but five, fifty, a million, or even an infinity of them! And none of them need be time. Space of a hundred and one dimensions is just as real as a space of three dimensions"). Along his fictional path, Stewart touches on Feynman diagrams, superstring theory, time travel, quantum mechanics, and black holes, among many other topics. And, in Abbott's spirit, Stewart pokes fun at our own assumptions, including our quest for a Theory of Everything.
You can't help but be charmed by a book with characters named Superpaws, the Hawk King, the Projective Lion, and the Space Hopper and dotted with doggerel such as "You ain't nothin' but a hadron / nucleifyin' all the time" and "I can't get no / more momentum." And, best of all, you can learn a thing or two about modern mathematics while being roundly entertained. That's no small accomplishment, and one for which Stewart deserves applause. --Gregory McNamee