I managed to finish a book before buying new ones!
The Infinite Book, by John D. Barrow, tries to explain the concept of infinity in several fields, and talks about how it has historically been regarded.
The first half of the book deals with infinity in mathematics. It starts with the obvious — Zeno’s paradoxes — and works its way through the history of mathematics all the way up to Georg Cantor and his infinite sets (א is a neat symbol), taking care to introduce complicated concepts in a way anyone could understand.
The second half deals with infinity in physics: infinite density, temperature, &c. in singularities, the infinity of space and time, and the infinity of the multiverse. It touches on things like the Big Bang (obviously), whether or not the universe will continue to expand forever, time travel, &c.
All of it is at least moderately interesting, though it does get repetitive.
The final chapter tries to philosophise a bit about what life would be like if we could live forever, in a stoner stream-of-consciousness kind of way. Barrow may be a good mathematician and theoretical physicist (though if he is, the scope of this book didn’t exactly allow him to show it off), but he’s no great philosopher.
But other than that, it was a pretty decent book. It made for easy reading, but it doesn’t treat readers like idiots, which is a hard balance to find. I certainly learned a few things.
One thing that did bother me, though: he touches on theology rather more than I thought was needed (though some mention is obviously going to be necessary, given the subject matter and the historical context), and he seemed to be extremely careful not to comment on its inanities.
Dunno. Maybe I’m more sensitive to that sort of thing than most. Still, since Barrow apparently won the Templeton Prize in 2006, I don’t think it’s just in my head.
One thing that did amuse me, though: at one point, he points out how advances in science and a deeper understanding of the world around us meant that the concept of God retreated further and further over the course of history, being confined to things science could not yet explain, time and time again.
The punchline? John D. Barrow is a deist.
Anyway. If you’re willing to ignore all that, it really isn’t a bad book. I’ll probably buy more of his books at some point, at least.