Naval: The Beginning of Infinity reminds me the most of Gödel, Escher, Bach in that it is very wide-ranging and stitches together ideas from many different disciplines. It’s very difficult to understand and follow completely. Everyone claims to have read it, but, as far as I can tell, very few people understand it.
I had this experience in college when I first found Hofstadter’s work. I remember that I put it on my bookshelf and I started reading it, and I started reading it, and I started reading it. About a year later, I was probably halfway through it. Then I just ran out of time. I had other things going on.
I remember that I would approach my other friends in college and would say, “This is a great book, you should read it.” And a week later they’d roll back and say, “Yeah, I read Gödel, Escher, Bach. It was great.” And I felt like the stupidest person in college.
It was only years later that I realized nobody had read it. When you get older, you get more confident in those confessionals, where you either say, “I didn’t read it” or “I read it at a constant pace and when I encountered something I didn’t understand, I kept going.”
I confess, to this day I have not read all of Gödel, Escher, Bach. But at least at this point, I’ve gone through and found the parts that were most interesting to me—which were the Gödel parts—and did read those and try to understand them. I skipped the parts that were not as interesting to me—which were the Bach parts.
The Beginning of Infinity is similar. Everybody in my social circle has it on their bookshelf. Many claim to have read it, but very few have gotten it.
I go back to this point that was first eloquently stated on Twitter by a character named @illacertus, who essentially wrote,“I don’t want to read all the books; I just want to read the best 100 over and over again.”
I’m currently stuck in a loop where, at least in science, I’m only going to read The Beginning of Infinity and The Fabric of Reality over and over again until I understand them fully. If I had read them 20 years ago, I would know a lot more, because then I would have chosen the right books and the right authors to read subsequently.
It’s a hard book to follow. You should buy the hardcover and electronic versions, so you have it all.
Brett: And the audio version.
Naval: Get it every way possible. If you can get through it in the first sitting and understand all the points at a deep level, then congratulations. But if not, we’re hoping to break it down for you.