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Journey to the Edge of Reason

The Life of Kurt Goedel

Stephen Budiansky



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Oxford University Press
25 May 2021
A remarkable account of Kurt Goedel, weaving together creative genius, mental illness, political corruption, and idealism in the face of the turmoil of war and upheaval. At age 24, a brilliant Austrian-born mathematician published a mathematical result that shook the world. Nearly a hundred years after Kurt Goedel's famous 1931 paper On Formally Undecidable Propositions appeared, his proof that every mathematical system must contain propositions that are true - yet never provable within that system - continues to pose profound questions for mathematics, philosophy, computer science, and artificial intelligence. His close friend Albert Einstein, with whom he would walk home every day from Princeton's famous Institute for Advanced Study, called him the greatest logician since Aristotle. He was also a man who felt profoundly out of place in his time, rejecting the entire current of 20th century philosophical thought in his belief that mathematical truths existed independent of the human mind, and beset by personal demons of anxiety and paranoid delusions that would ultimately lead to his tragic end from self-starvation.

Drawing on previously unpublished letters, diaries, and medical records, Journey to the Edge of Reason offers the most complete portrait yet of the life of one of the 20th century's greatest thinkers. Stephen Budiansky's account brings to life the remarkable world of philosophical and mathematical creativity of pre-war Vienna, and documents how it was barbarically extinguished by the Nazis. He charts Goedel's own hair's-breadth escape from Nazi Germany to the scholarly idyll of Princeton; and the complex, gently humorous, sensitive, and tormented inner life of this iconic but previously enigmatic giant of modern science. Weaving together Goedel's public and private lives, this is a tale of creative genius, mental illness, political corruption, and idealism in the face of the turmoil of war and upheaval.
By:   Stephen Budiansky
Imprint:   Oxford University Press
Country of Publication:   United Kingdom
Dimensions:   Height: 240mm,  Width: 162mm,  Spine: 35mm
Weight:   612g
ISBN:   9780198866336
ISBN 10:   019886633X
Pages:   352
Publication Date:   25 May 2021
Audience:   General/trade ,  ELT Advanced
Format:   Hardback
Publisher's Status:   Active

Stephen Budiansky is the author of eighteen books of biography, history, and science. From 1979 to 1982 he was a magazine editor and radio producer at the American Chemical Society in Washington, D.C.; from 1982 to 1985 he was Washington correspondent and then Washington editor of the scientific journal Nature. He joined the staff of U.S. News & World Report, where he worked in a variety of writing and editing positions, including national security correspondent, foreign editor, and deputy editor. Since 1998 he has been a full-time author and independent scholar, and in 2011 he was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship in the Creative Arts as a writer of general nonfiction. His books include Oliver Wendell Holmes: A Life in War, Law, and Ideas (2019); Code Warriors: NSA's Codebreakers and the Secret Intelligence War Against the Soviet Union (2016); and Mad Music: Charles Ives, the Nostalgic Rebel (2014).

Reviews for Journey to the Edge of Reason: The Life of Kurt Goedel

One of the great geniuses of the 20th century, barely known outside the academy today, receives a much-needed expert biographical treatment ... An outstanding biography of a man of incomprehensible brilliance. * Kirkus reviews * Journey to the Edge of Reason is an intimate and haunting portrait of one of the most elusive gods on Princeton's Mt. Olympus. A triumph of research and a wonderful read. * Sylvia Nasar, author of A Beautiful Mind * Kurt Goedel's mathematical results on incompleteness and undecidable propositions leave it up to us, as individuals, to choose whether to mourn these limits to the power of formal systems, or celebrate his proof that even the most rigid numerical bureaucracy contains the tools by which higher truth will always be able to effect an escape. Stephen Budianksy's Journey to the Edge of Reason expertly and humanely frames these results between Goedel's childhood under the dark shadow of the Austrian and Nazi bureaucracies, his escape to America, his descent into physical and mental illness, and his achievement of a reconciliation between spiritual faith and scientific proof. * George Dyson, author of Analogia and Turing's Cathedral * A painstakingly researched and lucidly presented biography-a close-up of one of the most influential and enigmatic thinkers of the twentieth century-full of vivid detail and sharp historical insight. * Karl Sigmund, professor of mathematics, University of Vienna, and author of Exact Thinking in Demented Times * A brilliant biography of one of the most original thinkers of all time, Journey to the Edge of Reason is as deep and precise as the genius it describes. In a paradox befitting Goedel himself, it takes a tale of logic and its limits and finds, at its heart, something strangely soulful and sympathetic. * Steven Strogatz, professor of mathematics, Cornell University, and author ofInfinite Powers *

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