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Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions – Edwin A. Abbott

17 Feb

FLEAAEdwin A. Abbott’s droll and delightful ‘romance of many dimensions’ explores this conundrum in the experiences of his protagonist, A Square, whose linear world is invaded by an emissary Sphere bringing the gospel of the third dimension on the eve of the new millennium. Part geometry lesson, part social satire, this classic work of science fiction brilliantly succeeds in enlarging all readers’ imaginations beyond the limits of our ‘respective dimensional prejudices’. In a world where class is determined by how many sides you possess, and women are straight lines, the prospects for enlightenment are boundless, and Abbott’s hypotheses about a fourth and higher dimensions seem startlingly relevant today.

There are those books that sit on your shelves for years, patiently waiting for you to come to your senses and devour them and this is just such a book. It brings together the joys of maths, philosophy and fun all in one easy and entertaining to read combination.

It’s a fantastic abstract journey, something akin to Gulliver’s travels or Allan Quatermain, giving you a chance to consider something totally alien yet immensely easy to visualise realities.

Taken at face value, this tale is a wonderful jaunt around a two-dimensional world in which you will get to understand such things as how the inhabitants can distinguish each other when they all appear as lines, as well as learning about the hierarchy, politics and history of Flatland.

For those of you who love a bit of subtext, the book is a razor-sharp satire on Victorian culture, its morals and ideologies.  Naturally women get a raw deal, although Abbott, a supporter of Women’s rights makes some salient points throughout the book on the position and the almost parallel culture the two sexes led at the time.  The politics of keeping the masses docile against the rich and the lack of a decent education system both come in for a fair bit of parody as well, the absurdity of such a system would be amusing were it not a mirror for real life.  That all of the above still goes on in the world today is genuinely a chilling thought to my mind.

The book is broken up into two parts, part one contains the guide to this new world, realising a land of two dimensions where logic and perspective are strangely skewed but the rules remain consistent and coherent at all times. The characters in the story do lack depth but then again that is the nature of their universe and for a world that struggles with the concept of upward, and yet not Northward we shouldn’t be surprised.

Part two is where things get more epic, there is a look at the extremes of logic in one, three and even no dimensions, which is fascinating and vivid and leads the reader to speculate on how a fourth dimension would look to our eyes, trained as we are to seeing in three dimensions.  It is worth noting that the Sphere, despite being a ‘higher’ being as it were, is still flawed and prone to the same weakness in logic that his fellow dimension hopper is and is not messianic figure as tradition on this plane dictates.

The same questions of further dimensions still tantalise us today and this book will engage and beguile the reader and leave them looking at things in a different way.  I have one further point (oh come on, as if I would let the review go without that pun, although I have done well to get this far without using it) to make, the writing may not always be of the highest standard but the ideas contained will encourage forays into  science books and maths literature.  For those of you wishing to read something mathsy I recommend looking up Fermat’s Last Theorem, Lewis Carroll in Numberland and Euclid’s Window to name a few of the ones I enjoyed.

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42 Comments

Posted by on 17/02/2015 in Classics, Philosophy, Sci-Fi

 

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42 responses to “Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions – Edwin A. Abbott

  1. Alastair Savage

    17/02/2015 at 18:36

    It sounds completely bonkers! I think you’re the only blogger I know who would dare to enter the second dimension like this.

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    • Ste J

      17/02/2015 at 18:43

      I have always seen my self as a risk taker between the sheets…of a book. It is a bit mental but after a while when you get a good visual on it, it is quite fascinating to explore on your own this strange world. I remember a Mario game that went from 2D to 3D in order for you to solve some puzzles, it’s like that but with less risk and colour.

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  2. shadowoperator

    17/02/2015 at 18:44

    I bought “Flatland” some time ago on the recommendation of a professor, but I’ve never yet read it. Your article may spur me on. On the subject of creative thinking regarding directions, my brother’s family has a map up on the wall called “What’s Up? South!” in which southern countries are at the top of the map and northern countries at the bottom–after all, the logic is, there is no necessary reason why we should conceive of North as being “up”!

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    • Ste J

      17/02/2015 at 18:49

      I have heard of these maps before, I was all turned around seeing a map in America where Britain wasn’t the centre so I would be fascinated to reorient myself to the south at the top map. I think you will very much enjoy Flatland, it has everything, sci-fi, science and philosophy, what’s not to like!

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  3. Bumba

    17/02/2015 at 22:46

    Will check this one out. I’d peeked at the George Gamow book of similar premise. I’d also heard Up Up and Away by the Fifth Dimension, and then there’s non euclidian geometry. What goes around, comes around, well almost.

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    • Ste J

      18/02/2015 at 09:09

      Never heard of this chappie, I will seek his works and indeed words out, I always suspected I would enjoy geometry when playing with big bright (and biteable) plastic triangles and squares in my (very) formative years.

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      • Bumba

        18/02/2015 at 17:42

        Gamow’s famous book is One, Two, Three, Infinity, early 50’s

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        • Ste J

          19/02/2015 at 09:07

          Excellent, looking at the reviews it sounds like a must have book and I must.

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          • Bumba

            19/02/2015 at 16:40

            You’ll find an interesting diagram. To demonstrate a four-dimensional grid, he shows an airplane crashing into a NY skyscraper.

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            • Ste J

              20/02/2015 at 13:32

              More and more intriguing…

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  4. Lyn

    17/02/2015 at 22:49

    it sounds completely fascinating, but as someone who failed maths all the way through school, I’m reluctant to chance it.

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    • Ste J

      18/02/2015 at 09:02

      The maths isn’t complicated at all and there are drawings as well, mostly it mentions angles but as you are visualising this 2D world it all becomes clear and intuitive.

      Liked by 1 person

       
  5. Letizia

    17/02/2015 at 23:06

    I’ve never heard of this book but it sounds fascinating. I must get my hands on a copy immediately. And, you’re so right (as usual) there’s always that book on your shelf just sitting there waiting (ever so patiently) to be read.

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    • Ste J

      18/02/2015 at 09:04

      I am now hunting for that inevitable next ‘sleeper’ book on the bookshelf that will blow me away. This book has been reprinted constantly in the last 100 years but never seems to feature big on the Classics lists much to the detriment of such lists.

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      • Letizia

        18/02/2015 at 15:23

        How odd. Like you say, probably to the detriment of such lists. Well, I’ve added it to my books to read list anyways.

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  6. gargoylebruce

    18/02/2015 at 03:16

    Why have I never heard of this before? Sounds like one for my Oddity Odyssey!

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    • Ste J

      18/02/2015 at 09:06

      It is one of those under the radar type books that are criminally under appreciated, it should also be famous for a central character who is a semi likeable lawyer. What a strange world Flatland truly is.

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  7. readinpleasure

    18/02/2015 at 16:12

    Interesting review,

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    • Ste J

      19/02/2015 at 09:03

      Thank you, it is the first review this year that I have actually felt like I have made a good job of.

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  8. Jilanne Hoffmann

    18/02/2015 at 19:39

    As you say, this one has been sitting on my shelf for years. I am now a little closer to reading it because of your review. I also have “Flatterland,” the sequel and “Here’s Looking at Euclid” on my shelf. Too many books….

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    • Ste J

      19/02/2015 at 09:02

      I came across Flatterland first, well I heard of it first but didn’t look into it too much as I don’t like spoilers lol. I haven’t heard of Here’s Looking at Euclid but that title makes me think it is a clear favourite for next book purchased, that and about 2000 others. Yes, way too many books.

      Liked by 1 person

       
  9. Christy Birmingham

    18/02/2015 at 21:57

    I would like to read this one for the satire on Victorian culture. I’m always reading up on women’s rights, now and then, so it would really be interesting to me.

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    • Ste J

      19/02/2015 at 09:12

      It is rare to find such a book that manages to take in all the subjects that it does in such a readable fashion and just 120 pages. I particularly enjoyed being reminded of the word bustle, it is a word I haven’t heard in the context of women’s attire for years, perhaps that makes me odd. I promise to get out more.

      Liked by 1 person

       
      • Christy Birmingham

        20/02/2015 at 01:28

        Bustle – yes, you’re right that’s not a word that’s used much anymore. It’s used now for the phrase “hustle and bustle” like people moving quickly around (we’re better writing at our desks!)

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  10. Nicholas Conley

    18/02/2015 at 23:43

    Totally love this book. I read it for the first time only a few years ago, and I was just blown away by the utter weirdness (and brilliance!) of it.

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    • Ste J

      19/02/2015 at 08:59

      It is so underrated, I only came across it when reading up on a scientists work and he had written Flatterland. being of a curious sort I had to find out what it was flatter than and then left it for about eight years before reading the thing, such is my witlessness.

      Liked by 1 person

       
  11. Elizabeth Melton Parsons

    19/02/2015 at 13:11

    I don’t do math, well actually I’m pretty good at math, but I hate it. It bores me to tears. Now after saying that, I will admit that I have been wanting to read this book for quite some time, ever since my son recommended it to me. I have no idea why I don’t just do it. I guess it’s the math thing. I’m intrigued by the premise, but afraid I’ll hate it. Now I’ve read your thoughts, I think I’ll bite the bullet and just read it. Thanks, Ste J. 🙂

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    • Ste J

      20/02/2015 at 13:40

      The maths isn’t hugely prevalent, there are a few diagrams and even if you want to skip the odd maths bit it is easy to pick up what’s being said anyway. It is good fun and short as well and that is always a plus point when subjects are not usually ones we would go for.

      Liked by 1 person

       
  12. Sherri

    19/02/2015 at 16:52

    I love anything that explores Victorian culture, even though I wouldn’t have wanted to have lived during that era. Plus I adored Gulliver’s Travels as a youngster, so who knows…perhaps something to consider reading thanks to your excellent review…

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    • Ste J

      20/02/2015 at 13:37

      I reviewed Gulliver’s Travels a while back, there is a lot more than I remembered as a child, probably because I had one of those abridged books, it is a razor sharp satire and well worth a reread.

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  13. Theanne aka magnoliamoonpie

    19/02/2015 at 19:50

    Flatland is now being held captive in my Kindle…after I read it I’ll let you know what I think…I’m not a mathy person…but geometry has always held my interest…so we’ll see 🙂

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    • Ste J

      20/02/2015 at 13:33

      Excellent, I do hope you like it, there isn’t too much maths which is always good as it is always a challenge for me as well.

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  14. writersideup

    19/02/2015 at 23:10

    It sounds fascinating, Ste J 🙂 I’m guessing it was written during or just after the Victorian era? And yes, the fact that mankind never REALLY learns/changes is chilling, for sure : /

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    • Ste J

      20/02/2015 at 13:36

      Yes it was written during the Victorian era so it is grounded in what its saying.

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  15. LuAnn

    22/02/2015 at 14:34

    I don’t know where you find these books Ste J, but this one sounds fascinating. I may just have to clear my way to read this one soon. Thanks! 🙂

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    • Ste J

      22/02/2015 at 15:42

      I like to hunt out the obscure books to amuse and illuminate. Once again apologies (but at the same time not) for growing your book pile.

      Liked by 1 person

       
  16. vsvevg

    25/02/2015 at 02:14

    I have always wondered about this book. Sounds great. Thanks.

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    • Ste J

      25/02/2015 at 20:13

      Short, concise and fantastic to try and visualise, it makes you appreciate depth perception for sure.

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  17. anna amundsen

    30/03/2015 at 13:19

    I have never heard of this one but everything you pointed out gave me a strong reason to procure it soon!

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    • Ste J

      30/03/2015 at 19:32

      I know you will like it, it has a good mix of satire, history and maths, what is not to like!

      Like

       

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