Some people like to read bestsellers. In fact, lots of people must like to read bestsellers. Otherwise they wouldn’t be bestsellers — right? And then, at the other extreme, there are many people who don’t like to read at all. Probably that’s an even larger number. And finally there are those who love to read, but prefer esoteric selections rather than the popular ones. We’re probably a pretty small population. Yes, I said “we.”
So…I just finished reading Plato at the Googleplex, by Rebecca Goldstein. A little over a year ago I read and reviewed another of Goldstein’s works, the improbably titled Arguments for the Existence of God: A work of fiction — basically a novel, but also a work of philosophy. Plato at the Googleplex is also part novel and part philosophical treatise, but in a different format. Like many novels, this work requires a single bit of suspension of disbelief: you have to assume that Plato has somehow survived 2400 years to the present day, physically and mentally intact. With that out of the way, the reader is treated to alternating chapters of novel and philosophical treatise. The fictional bits portray interactions between Plato and various real-life contemporaries (contemporaries of ours, not of the real historical Plato). Most of these characters are thinly disguised, such as the Chinese-American author of a book about “Warrior Moms,” or a popular right-wing radio host. The non-fictional bits are thoughtful discussions of Plato’s relevance to modern life — hence the subtitle, Why philosophy won’t go away.
One fictional chapter has Plato as a guest speaker at Google — hence the primary title. The portrayal of Google culture is brilliant: sympathetic but satirical.
So, what can I say? If, like me, you think Plato is of enormous significance to mathematics and even to life, you will want to read this book. If you don’t think Plato has anything to do with mathematics, or that mathematics has anything to do with life, you should read this book. Parts of it, unsurprisingly, are a little dry, perhaps even dull. The alternating fictional chapters certainly liven things up, especially with lots of broad satire, but the non-fictional chapters repay the careful attention they require. Read it!