I Am a Strange Loop

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by Douglas Hofstadter

(Basic Books) $26.95

Hofstadter is the author of Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid, a book that was recommended to me by an excessively well-read janitor as a life-changing experience. The janitor, as is so often true, was dead right: In Gödel, Escher, Bach, Hofstadter manages to translate complex mathematical equations and paradoxes into concepts that even the most scientifically challenged English major can understand. The fugues and Möbius strips from Gödel, Escher, Bach stay with me even today; it's one of the few books that actually expanded my consciousness.

Strange Loop is not as ambitious as Hofstadter's prior, Pulitzer-winning effort, but it's tremendously affecting. Since his wife's death from cancer in 1993, Hofstadter has set his scientist mind to the greatest problem of all: Where did she—the part that he fell in love with—go? It would be easy to fall into clichés or tacky spirituality, but the emotionally honest and intellectually curious narrative eventually leads to an earnest study of both the mathematical truth of infinity and weirder mortal mysteries. The answers that this book offers, a kind of mathematical study of the soul, are comforting to even the most grounded of atheists, and Hofstadter's intellectual romanticism is sincerely inspirational.