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THE NIGHT IS LARGE by Martin Gardner


Collected Essays, 1938-1995


Pub Date: July 1st, 1996
ISBN: 0-312-14380-X
Publisher: St. Martin's

 In a broad-ranging collection of essays on mathematics, theoretical physics, philosophy, literature, and religion, Gardener has a panoramic view from the shoulders of such giants as Einstein, William James, and L. Frank Baum. When a best-of collection spans almost 60 years, several disciplines, and a prolific output of books and articles for the New York Review of Books, Scientific American, and the Skeptical Inquirer, the odds are it will be stimulating, informative, and even contentious. Gardner's is, naturally, and his own personal touches--a sense of humor equal to his curiosity, for instance- -match his talents for smooth prose and clear encapsulation. In such an intellectual potpourri, Gardner's mind may appear slightly contradictory: He defends relativity in physics but not relativism in anthropology, accepts quantum mechanics's paradoxes but not Newcomb's paradox of free will, and takes proofs for Nothing (or at least the null set) but not for God. Gardner proves skeptical but never close-minded, a realist in his epistemology, a Platonist in his mathematics, and a theist in his religion. Such a character of course wades into debates on relativity, superstrings, cosmology, and artificial intelligence, and iconoclastically investigates the gullibility of William James and Sigmund Freud. He also has some lucid speculations on Time, Nothing, and Everything and sprightly essays on invented languages, James Joyce, and Georges Perec. And he includes whimsy, such as his again-timely spoof of Reaganomics's warped Laffer Curve, a combination burlesque of T.S. Eliot and mathematical conundrums, and a pseudonymous, sardonic review of his own The Whys of a Philosophical Scrivener (1983). If Newton was, as he said, like a boy playing on the seashore of an undiscovered ocean of truth, then Gardner too has amassed an impressive shell collection. (line drawings not seen)