Imatge de l'autor

Benjamín Labatut

Autor/a de When We Cease to Understand the World

11 obres 1,326 Membres 56 Ressenyes 1 preferits

Sobre l'autor

Crèdit de la imatge: Rodrigo Fernández, CC BY-SA 4.0 , via Wikimedia Commons

Obres de Benjamín Labatut


Coneixement comú

Data de naixement
Lloc de naixement
Rotterdam, Netherlands
Llocs de residència
The Hague, Netherlands
Buenos Aires, Argentina
Lima, Peru
Santiago, Chile



This book both is and is not like Helena Bonham Carter. Like HBC, it is kind of strange and darkly seductive and wonderfully entertaining. Unlike HBC, I’m not sure it entirely stands up to a great deal of scrutiny. As a reading (listening, actually) experience several months ago it was an easy 5 stars. Pondering after a later re-read with it as printed matter, I have a few qualms.

The identity of the book is first of all in Labatut’s idea that trying to grasp the hidden core of reality, what in his view we can’t in fact ever understand, tends to lead to suffering and madness, as demonstrated by the lives of a number of the most genius of scientists, and secondly in using fictional elements in an effort to illustrate this idea in a gradually increasing way through the book, starting from a 99.9% factual first section. This second element I think is largely responsible for winning the book its renown. However, despite being shortlisted for the 2021 International Booker, I would not classify this book as fiction; basically it’s another [b:The War of the Poor|54765614|The War of the Poor|Éric Vuillard||67580285] situation and again, for me: not fiction. Rather, it’s using a bit of fiction to try to strengthen its point-of-view in recounting and interpreting actual events - like, you know, history books.

The book does some things quite well, such as pulling the reader along a swiftly moving stream of interesting facts and ideas from science and, particularly, quantum physics. That said, it does so at a superficial level, a good bit away from something like a more standard non-fiction work on quantum physics for the general reader. But that’s fair enough really, because that is not its concern - and perhaps a relief to many a reader. The book doesn’t need the reader to have the foggiest notion of how Heisenberg’s matrices actually work, just know they’re something he created while trying to comprehend the deepest nature of reality. And while going a bit mad.

Characterization is another thing the book generally does very well, quickly giving a sense of the different scientists in its focus. But then here’s where the fictional elements come into play. Labatut makes up scenes to emphasize his view that their scientific efforts were leading them into suffering and madness. How well do these scenes work? Does reading that Heisenberg went on walks during which:
He would shit squatting down as if he were a dog marking its territory, and then root around for stones to cover his filth, imagining that at any moment someone might surprise him with his trousers around his ankles.

add to its persuasive picture?

If Labatut’s thesis is persuasive, why include these made up scenes? If for literary reasons, I don’t think they work that well on further reflection, or at least they aren’t for me. If they’re necessary for convincing readers of his thesis, then maybe his thesis isn’t actually all that persuasive.

In a review of the book, Maria Dahvana Headley writes that, “The men profiled in this volume are certainly geniuses, but they’ve been curated to reflect catastrophe.” That they have. And it’s a darkly seductive curation, to Labatut’s credit. But is it a fair view of the history of humankind in reaching for new and deep understandings? Well.

The book certainly does much to praise. The prose, translated from the Spanish, is terrific. As for my complaint that inserting some imagined scenes does not in itself make a work fiction, perhaps a misleadingly curated book of non-fiction could be said to get there in the end.
… (més)
lelandleslie | Hi ha 45 ressenyes més | Feb 24, 2024 |
Obsessions with science and mathematics leads to discoveries - and at times madness. I would have preferred if this book weren't such a blend of fact - and some fiction. Would it really have been less of a great read if it were all non-fiction?
vunderbar | Hi ha 45 ressenyes més | Feb 18, 2024 |
Brilliant book. Crazy men effecting their madness upon us. The slow drive from early 20th century Czechoslovakia mathematicians to AI is an amazing feat of literature. The weaving of fiction and non-fiction remarkable and compelling. I was moved to watch the documentary AlphaGo after finishing this book and I found it so moving and disturbing. We are in such a hurry to create these machines that we lose sight of why we play a game, why we form societies, why we are human. Excellent book.
BookyMaven | Hi ha 8 ressenyes més | Feb 14, 2024 |
Presages a transfer of power to machine life. Beginning with a factionalized but accurate biography of John Von Nueman. He is presented as the ultimate example of a human mathematical prodigy. He grasps instantly what it took other great mathematicians weeks to understand. At the end of his life in the fifties he becomes obsessed with the idea of developing a machine life that will evolve. Although he is responsible for developing the first large scale mechanical computer in order to facilitate development of the hydrogen bomb he fails at his attempt to design his machine that will evolve.
The book then moves ahead half a century to tell the story of the computer that became the best Go player on the world. Out achieved its preeminence by learning and evolving.
The reader is left to wonder what next.
… (més)
waldhaus1 | Hi ha 8 ressenyes més | Feb 7, 2024 |



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