May 04 2007

Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions

Category: BooksChrisM @ 8:53 pm

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

If you’ve never read this book, skip this review, go buy it and read it now! It really was that good. Again, like Isaac Asimov’s I, Robot, there have been so many cultural references to this piece of work, it is quite amazing.
Anyway, I’m skipping head of myself there, sorry. The basic idea of this book revolves around dimensions. Or social classes and their detrimental effect on society. Or just a funny story. It all depends what level you want to read this book at. In terms of dimensions, these days it isn’t too difficult too imagine a transition from 2-D to 3-D. At the most basic level, if you think about any time a 2-D animated cartoon has featured either ‘real’ human actors on screen, or 3-D generated computer graphics, you’ve already understood the concept of moving from 2 dimensions to 3. Now imagine going from 2 dimensions to 1! Not only do you have no depth, there is no height either (in this book’s case at least)!
The characters in this world are all basic flat geometric shapes, and their society is divided up along the lines of how many sides their shapes have. A perfect circle is the most elevated possible position to attain, but you can only get there through many generations of offspring. Simple triangles, especially of the non-equilateral variety, are the most base form of life in this society, and so are restricted to manual work. At this point you can probably see how this book was also written as a critique of the society (Victorian?) that surrounded Edwin A. Abbott as he wrote this novel.
Many people have made reference to this book, and the clever way it attempts to describe the seismic changes required to comprehend the lack of, or addition of, a dimension. Considering when this book was written, it has aged incredibly well. Are you still reading this? STOP, go and buy the book, please 🙂

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