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Emblems of Mind


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About the Author

Edward Rothstein is cultural critic-at-large for the New York Times. He also has served as chief music critic for the Times and as music critic for the New Republic. The recipient of a Guggenheim fellowship, Rothstein has written for Commentary, Vanity Fair, and the New York Review of Books.


Music and mathematics, Rothstein notes, have been companions throughout history, from Pythagorean mysticism relating sounds to numbers, to astronomer Johannes Kepler's claim that his laws of planetary motion revealed a music of the spheres, to the mathematical thinking that pervades musical compositions by Arnold Schoenberg, Iannis Xenakis and John Cage. In an elegantly written, original inquiry, the New York Times's chief music critic argues that the links between these two fields, far from being accidental, reveal profound underlying similarities. Both music and mathematics, Rothstein says, use abstraction, proportion, comparison, transformation and metaphor to create grand unifying structures out of small details in their quest for timeless forms, hidden order and beauty. Rothstein's uncanny insights in this intensive exploration will startle and reward the literate layperson, including those with no technical knowledge of either music or math. Illustrated. (Jan.)

"Expect luminous rewards by the end and exhilaration throughout the journey." - Hugh Kenner, Wall Street Journal "Provocative and exciting.... Rothstein writes this book as a foreign correspondent, sending dispatches from a remote and mysterious locale as a guide for the intellectually adventurous. The remarkable fact about his work is not that it is profound, as much of the writing is, but that it is so accessible." - Christian Science Monitor "Lovely, wistful.... Rothstein is a wonderful guide to the architecture of musical space, its tensions and relations, its resonances and proportions.... His account of what is going on in the music is unfailingly felicitous." - New Yorker"

Rothstein, who is both a mathematician and a musician, is currently the chief music critic for the New York Times. In moving back and forth between the worlds of music and mathematics, he has frequently encountered the generally accepted notion that there are many connections between the two. This book attempts "to explain why these connections are far from accidental or incidental and why they reveal something profound about the nature of each activity." Rothstein writes for the lay reader: this decidedly nonmathematical reviewer found the examples from mathematics quite accessible, and the music discussion could be grasped even without the explanatory figures. However, each section of the book focuses mainly on one field or the other, and, for all his clarity, Rothstein does not ever really succeed in drawing them together. Still, academic and larger public libraries should have a sufficient number of patrons who share Rothstein's dual interests, and they will find much to ponder and enjoy in this book.‘Martin Jenkins, Wright State Univ. Lib., Dayton, Ohio

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