Ok, I’ll admit it: the sole reason I read this book is because Sheldon Cooper mentioned it on The Big Bang Theory. Another confession: I hate math. I’m pretty sure I’ve completely forgotten everything that I don’t need to use for cooking or money. And even then, there’s a calculator on my iPhone.
Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions was written in 1884 by Edwin A. Abbott. I got it for free on my iPad (thanks iBooks!), because I am now a poor grad student and while nothing beats an actual paper book, free comes close. The first half of Flatland reads almost like a anthropological study of Flatland. The narrator, a square (seriously, that’s not a joke), tells us all about society in Flatland. Basically, the more shapes you have, the higher up you are. The highest in society – the Circles – are not exactly circles, but they have so many sides no one can really tell. The world is two-dimensional (although that’s not entirely true, we find out later in the book), so it’s citizens rely on touch and fog to discern the shapes of others. Women are straight lines, and must wiggle and shout as they walk to avoid running into and stabbing someone.
Flatland is a satire of Victorian England. All of the societal rules and doctrines are meant to show how ridiculous similar rules are in late nineteenth-century Britain. The square’s encounter with a sphere from Spaceland later in the book, and his inability to understand space represent human beings’ limited ability to grasp a divine power. Overall, I thought it was a very creative way to look at society.
Flatland is kind of flat
If you decide to read Flatland, I’d highly recommend keeping in mind that it is a satire. Otherwise, like me, you’ll probably get bored about half way through. Seriously, this book is like a hundred pages long, and it took me three weeks to read. And I was a history major – so I’m used to reading long, “boring” texts. The thing is, Flatland is kind of flat. But I’m stubborn, and even if a book physically makes me angry, I can’t not finish it. And despite there actually being almost no actual math (and when there is, there are some nice little diagrams), I had to force my way through this book.
My verdict: I’m glad I read it, but I’ll never do it again. If, like Sheldon Cooper, you adore geometry, this might be a fun read. Or if, like me, you’re attempting to read pretty much every book you’ve ever heard of, this one’s pretty short, so might as well get it out of the way.
If you’ve read or are planning to read Flatland, let me know what you think in the comments!