Book cover
The King of Infinite Space
Euclid and His Elements
David Berlinski
Audio, Print

I listened to this in audio and loved it so much I had to immediately read it in print as well. It’s a wonderful book. You might imagine a book about geometry would be boring. (I would never imagine that, but I’m led to believe I’m an outlier here…) But Berlinski is such a masterful writer, that his words are as pleasurable to read as they are interesting. I suspect only a small percentage of the world is particularly interested in how Euclid fits in to the history of mathematics. And a smaller percentage still has the mathematical expertise to write so deeply about it. But I would not have guessed anyone on earth who ticked both those boxes would also write with such style. Take, for instance:

“What is, is,” Parmenides says, and as for what is not, “it is not.”

It is difficult to imagine an objection being framed. Did anyone in the fifth century BC propose that what is, is not, or that what is not, is? Yet from the premise that nothing is, after all, nothing, Parmenides drew the conclusion that there is no void between atoms, because it makes no sense to say of a void that it is.


This is not a biography (how could it be?) And it is not Euclid fan-fiction. But it does have a reverence for Euclid and what he accomplished. While at the same time probing what, exactly, that accomplishment is.

The quest for unity will continue, and, of course, it will always fail. And this, too, we know. Whatever the form of unity mathematicians acquire, the world’s diversity will in time overwhelm them, as it overwhelms us all.

This reminded me of a favorite passage from Blood Meridian:

The universe is no narrow thing and the order within it is not constrained by any latitude in its conception to repeat what exists in one part in any other part. Even in this world more things exist without our knowledge than with it and the order in creation which you see is that which you have put there, like a string in a maze, so that you shall not lose your way.

All I can say to both of these is: Amen.