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Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions (1884)

by Edwin A. Abbott

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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9,674183777 (3.76)175
In 1884, Edwin Abbott Abbott wrote a mathematical adventure set in a two-dimensional plane world, populated by a hierarchical society of regular geometrical figures-who think and speak and have all too human emotions. Since then Flatland has fascinated generations of readers, becoming a perennial science-fiction favorite. By imagining the contact of beings from different dimensions, the author fully exploited the power of the analogy between the limitations of humans and those of his two-dimensional characters. A first-rate fictional guide to the concept of multiple dimensions of space, the book will also appeal to those who are interested in computer graphics. This field, which literally makes higher dimensions seeable, has aroused a new interest in visualization. We can now manipulate objects in four dimensions and observe their three-dimensional slices tumbling on the computer screen. But how do we interpret these images? In his introduction, Thomas Banchoff points out that there is no better way to begin exploring the problem of understanding higher-dimensional slicing phenomena than reading this classic novel of the Victorian era.… (more)
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» See also 175 mentions

English (169)  Italian (7)  Spanish (2)  French (2)  Dutch (1)  Portuguese (1)  Swedish (1)  All languages (183)
Showing 1-5 of 169 (next | show all)
I'm not sure why the subtitle contains the word 'romance'.
This book reminded me of Star Maker, but luckily Flatland is much shorter and consists of beautiful English prose. Flatland is a monologue describing an epiphany concerning the Nature of the Universe. I also see connections with thought experiments such as Plato's allegory of the cave. It invites the reader to extend the analogy to our own experience.
The tone of the narrator is scientific and slightly sad, which makes it (despite its short length) a bit of a heavy read. There's also a distopian tinge to the story.
The Flatland States are conservative and very woman-unfriendly. Can't tell if the writer is a bigot or a satirist. ;)
( )
  jd7h | Feb 18, 2024 |
This is a fascinating little book. Written in the latish 19th century, it is a despatch from a very simple two-dimensional world by one of its inhabitants, the supposed author: A Square. The first part of the book simply describes the society of Flatland for the benefit of we three-dimensional creatures, its intended audience. The second describes how the square came to learn of our three-dimensional world, as well as other zero- and one-dimensional worlds, and his efforts to educate his fellow bi-dimensional fellows about the higher dimensions.

Both sections are very different (the first has little plot, and more of the maths; the second is much more philosophical), but both are packed with allusions and layers of meaning. For example, the society shows antediluvian, barely qualified, attitudes to women and class - this is a little off-putting initially, until it becomes clear that this is social satire, of a Swiftian level. In describing his attempts to educate people about the higher-dimensions, Abbott is explicitly imploring the reader to be open-minded about radical abstract ideas, by way of making us consider that there are higher-dimensions of which we are not aware. And ultimately the story contains elements of traditional tragedy, of transformation - apotheosis even - and of attaining knowledge from a state of ignorance and of the resultant fall from grace.

On top of that, the book is crammed with references to Shakespeare and the classics. (And through all that it is written in beguilingly simple language (although in a slightly archaic style - even for the 19th century - to give it a timeless quality).

It is a deceptively simple, towering achievement.

This edition in particular is to be recommended. I found the notes on the maths, and Abbott's literary references very useful (although the ones explaining some of the language far less so). And almost more fascinating than Abbott's fable of abstract thought is the man that emerges in the other material in the book.

From the main text you discern a clever, thorough, drily witty and whimsical man; and the basic notes clearly illustrate through their detailing of classical and literary allusions, a highly - and widely - learned man; but that barely scratches the many surfaces of Abbott. Fortunately there is considerable back material in the appendices to fill in some of the detail. His accomplishments include

Legendary headmaster (Prime Minister Asquith attended the City of London School while Abbott was in charge)
An award-winning Cambridge scholar (top in his year in Classics)
A renowned preacher
A bible scholar and leading progressive thinker on the non-miraculous Jesus (reminiscent of Thomas Jefferson's 'The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazare')
Shakespearean scholar
A biographer and critic of Cardinal Newman
Educational reformer (an early proponent of formal teacher training; promoting teaching for lower classes)
Active Proponent of women's education and suffrage
Admiree (reciprocated) of George Eliot
Author of numerous books and essays, on a range of topics encompassing most of the above

And, of course, a writer of whimsical mathematical fiction, which - along with beautifully communicated (and occasionally entertainingly illustrated) higher mathematical concepts - incorporates existentialism, social criticism, and a plea for scientific rigour and open-mindedness.

I have a new hero.
( )
  thisisstephenbetts | Nov 25, 2023 |
Delightful and thought-provoking for a twelve-year-old. ( )
  sfj2 | Nov 13, 2023 |
This was pretty amazing. 1800 style writing and talking geometry, what is not to like? Ultimately the readability suffers under these two characteristics, but Abott wrote a pretty interesting short story regardless. For anyone who doesn't want to go through 80 pages of "doths" and "thy's" I cannot recommend the 2007 Ehlinger movie Flatland enough. ( )
  bramboomen | Oct 18, 2023 |
Probably quite revolutionary for its time, but if issues of classism and sexism bother you, then you may find this book irritating. Doesn't take much time to read, though, so if nothing else, it prompts an interesting thought exercise about the possibility of conceiving ideas that one doesn't actually have the senses to view. ( )
  IsraOverZero | Sep 23, 2023 |
Showing 1-5 of 169 (next | show all)

» Add other authors (50 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Abbott, Edwin A.primary authorall editionsconfirmed
Bradbury, RayIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Brandt, AdrielNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
D'Amico, MasolinoTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Dewdney, A. K.Introductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Edelmann, HeinzCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Hoffmann, BaneshIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Jann, RosemaryEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Kalka, JoachimTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Langton, JamesNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Lightman, Alan P.Introductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Manganelli, GiorgioAfterwordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Paulos, John AllenAfterwordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Smith, ValerieIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Canonical title
Original title
Alternative titles
Information from the Italian Common Knowledge. Edit to localize it to your language.
Original publication date
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Information from the Italian Common Knowledge. Edit to localize it to your language.
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Epigraph
"O day and night, but this is wondrous strange"
"Fie, fie, how franticly I square my talk!"
Dedication
To
The Inhabitants of SPACE IN GENERAL
And H. C. IN PARTICULAR
This Work is Dedicated
By a Humble Native of Flatland
In the Hope that
Even as he was Initiated into the Mysteries
Of THREE Dimensions
Having been previously conversant
With ONLY TWO
So the Citizens of that Celestial Region
May aspire yet higher and higher
To the Secrets of FOUR FIVE OR EVEN SIX Dimensions
Thereby contributing
To the Enlargement of THE IMAGINATION
And the possible Development
Of that most rare and excellent Gift of MODESTY
Among the Superior Races
Of SOLID HUMANITY
First words
I call our world Flatland, not because we call it so, but to make its nature clearer to you, my happy readers, who are privileged to live in Space.
Quotations
Last words
(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
Disambiguation notice
The Annotated Flatland has substantial commentary by Ian Stewart and so is a separate work.
Publisher's editors
Blurbers
Original language
Canonical DDC/MDS
Canonical LCC

References to this work on external resources.

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None

In 1884, Edwin Abbott Abbott wrote a mathematical adventure set in a two-dimensional plane world, populated by a hierarchical society of regular geometrical figures-who think and speak and have all too human emotions. Since then Flatland has fascinated generations of readers, becoming a perennial science-fiction favorite. By imagining the contact of beings from different dimensions, the author fully exploited the power of the analogy between the limitations of humans and those of his two-dimensional characters. A first-rate fictional guide to the concept of multiple dimensions of space, the book will also appeal to those who are interested in computer graphics. This field, which literally makes higher dimensions seeable, has aroused a new interest in visualization. We can now manipulate objects in four dimensions and observe their three-dimensional slices tumbling on the computer screen. But how do we interpret these images? In his introduction, Thomas Banchoff points out that there is no better way to begin exploring the problem of understanding higher-dimensional slicing phenomena than reading this classic novel of the Victorian era.

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See also the Wikipedia article.
Haiku summary
2D live creatures
Have a shape based caste system
Start a revolution

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