Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Gödel, Escher, Bach

I'm a Yegge fan-boy, and his most recent post mentioned Gödel, Escher, Bach - the Pulitzer Prize-winning book by Douglas Hofstadter. Which got me to thinking...

A couple of programmers/bloggers I respect have the book on their must-have lists: Joel, Stevey. And most programming bloggers refer to it reverently.

I tried to read the book shortly after graduating college. I didn't finish it, because it was incredibly boring and repetitive and boring ... and repetitive. Turns out many don't finish the book, no surprise to me.

I'll repeat myself (in the spirit of GEB I should probably recurse), GEB was a complete snoozer. It reminded me much of Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged - another snoozer. There's only so much repetition I can stand.

I'm sure I missed all the puzzles and word-play - I certainly didn't get to the end where Hofstadter's characters discuss books that end before the final page (a joke that took 700 pages to set up).

Perhaps the book provides a path to enlightenment to people who are not familiar with recursion, self-reference, and the incompleteness theorem. Or, maybe there is enough wordplay and "charming" dialog to get you to wade through all 800 pages (there is that one nearly at the end).

I'd have been happier if the book were condensed to 150 pages.


Eric said...

Yes, not an easy book to read. However, I did read it (over 25 years ago now it must be) and found it extremely worthwhile.

fogus said...

GEB is one of those books that requires a pencil and paper in order to really get the full effect. Many people just want to read a book without all the fuss. But GEB is worth the effort.

BFW said...

I guess my point/gripe was that after having a course on the theory of computing (e.g. Theory of Computation) the book felt like a series of kiddie stories explaining things I already knew.

Alex Schroeder said...

I tried to read it, got bored, gave it away.

bauersc said...

I'm in total agreement with BFW here, that book's been collecting dust on my shelf for neigh on a decade now, with the bookmark wedged about 1/3 of the way through it. A constant reminder that either a) it was too hard to get through, or b) I have no patience... or more likely, both.