This highly original and entertaining short novel (which has been in print continually since its original publication in 1884) tells the story of A. Square, an inhabitant of the two-dimensional world Flatland. After an overview of Flatland society in all its aspects, A. Square recounts how he was led on a series of visions and travels to Pointland, Lineland, and Spaceland by A. Sphere on the last day of Flatland’s year 1999. Through his encounters with these other lands, A. Square realizes that there is indeed more to the universe than the world he lives in. A. Sphere opens A. Square’s mind to new possibilities, illuminating the path to knowledge through careful observation and commonsense experimentation. But when A. Square can be contented no longer with what he has already seen, he dreams of visiting a land of four dimensions, the so-called Thoughtland. As in real life, such desires are met with sometimes-violent opposition from society’s leaders in the name of maintaining the status quo.
Victorian clergyman and Shakespearean scholar Edwin Abbott penned this mathematical allegory about the dawn of reason seemingly in response to the puritanical environment of his era. Touching on themes of humanity’s insatiable quest for truth, authority’s tendency to squash radical ideas born from this quest, and the necessity of curiosity, Flatland is an odd and charming little book whose impact far surpasses its concise prose.
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Flatland is one of the very few novels about math and philosophy that can appeal to almost any layperson. Published in 1880, this short fantasy takes us to a completely flat world of two physical dimensions where all the inhabitants are geometric shapes, and who think the planar world of length and width that they know is all there is. But one inhabitant discovers the existence of a third physical dimension, enabling him to finally grasp the concept of a fourth dimension. Watching our Flatland narrator, we begin to get an idea of the limitations of our own assumptions about reality, and we start to learn how to think about the confusing problem of higher dimensions. The book is also quite a funny satire on society and class distinctions of Victorian England.From the Back Cover:
Flatland (1884) is an influential mathematical fantasy that simultaneously provides an introduction to non-Euclidean geometry and a satire on the Victorian class structure, issues of science and faith, and the role of women. A classic of early science fiction, the novel takes place in a world of two dimensions where all the characters are geometric shapes. The narrator, A Square, is a na´ve, respectable citizen who is faced with proof of the existence of three dimensions when he is visited by a sphere and is forced to see the limitations of his world.
The introduction to this Broadview Edition provides context for the book’s references to Victorian culture and religion, mathematical history, and the history of philosophy. The appendices contain contemporary reviews; extracts from the work of fellow mathematical fantasy writer/mathematician Charles Hinton; Hermann von Helmboltz’s “The Axioms of Geometry” (1870); and autobiographical passages from Abbott’s The Kernel and the Husk (1886).
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