Sunday, February 14, 2010

book review: i am a strange loop

I Am a Strange Loop

No review of a book by Douglas R. Hofstadter can fail to mention Godel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid -- sometimes referred to as GEB -- his Pulitzer prize winning 1979 masterpiece. GEB is a book that should be required reading in schools; a brilliant tapestry of ideas from music, math and art that swirl around the mystery of the thing that we call the mind. If you haven't read GEB, get it now, it is a fantastic book.

The curse of having written something like GEB is that everything else that comes after has to fall in its shadow, and this is certainly true of I am a Strange Loop. This book explored the same mystery that Hofstadter examined in GEB (and in much of his life), but this time much more directly and personally. While his prior work playfully danced around the question of consciousness, this book takes a more deliberate approach. He still leverages his gift for analogy, but it lacks some of the creativity and depth from his early work.

In this book, Hofstadter talks about losing his wife to cancer and how he tried to understand and cope with the loss. In the context of those experiences, it is hard to not be moved when he argues that a person's mind can (to some extent) live on after death in the brains of the people that knew them.


This book doesn't have the invigorating playfulness of GEB, but it is a very approachable (and very personal) treatise from an expert trying to explain how that three pound tangle of neurons could be the home of that wonderful mystery that we call self. If you've already read GEB, and loved it, this one is probably worth reading too.

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