The first biography to fully draw upon Gödel's voluminous letters and writings to explore Gödel's profound intellectual friendships, his moving relationship with his mother, his troubled yet devoted marriage, and the debilitating bouts of paranoia that ultimately took his life. It also offers an intimate portrait of the scientific and intellectual circles in prewar Vienna, a haunting account of Gödel's and Jewish intellectuals' flight from Austria and Germany at the start of the Second World War, and a vivid re-creation of the early days of the Institute for Advanced Study [in Princeton, NJ], where Gödel and Einstein both worked. A portrait of the odd, brilliant, and tormented man who has been called the greatest logician since Aristotle.
... potent and entertaining ... For interested readers, Budiansky supplies an appendix that moves through Gödel’s proof, step by step, but granular knowledge of formal logic isn’t essential for anyone’s enjoyment of this moving biography. Budiansky brings a polymath’s interest to bear on a man whose life intersected with the political and philosophical upheavals of the 20th century ... Not only does Budiansky offer a clear discussion of the incompleteness theorem along with the accolades it elicited; he takes care to embed the proof in the life, avoiding the kind of gloomy interpretations that so often made Gödel feel misunderstood ... It’s this emphasis on the human and humane implications of Gödel’s life and work that gives this book its mesmerizing pull ... makes ample and illuminating use of Gödel’s correspondence and journals, including a diary, kept in a special shorthand, that had never been translated before. Budiansky is judicious with interpretations, preferring mostly to let his themes emerge from the absorbing story he tell ... as this vibrant biography so beautifully elucidates, the truth of a life can’t ever be proven; it can only be shown.
It might be thought that the justification for another biography of Gödel is that previous biographies were in some ways incomplete—or, to put it another way, that a new work should add substantially to what we already know. Does Stephen Budiansky’s Journey to the Edge of Reason pass this test? ... [Budiansky] writes vividly, and the book overflows with fascinating detail. Although it mostly steers clear of math and logic, it does a good enough job to convince general readers that they have understood some of the problems with which Gödel grappled. Plus, there is some fresh material to draw upon, including Gödel’s diary, which covers two years before the outbreak of World War II ... if that degree of biographical scrutiny is justified for the 20th century’s most important scientist, then there is surely room in the world for an enthralling book about its most important logician.
Budiansky exposes the social and political influences that shaped the life of this brilliant Austrian mathematician, illuminating particularly the dramatic events that caused him to flee a country losing its soul to Nazi barbarians to join Einstein in the exclusive Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton. But Budiansky’s greater accomplishment is that of penetrating a mind that reoriented the entire mathematical world with the famous incompleteness theorems ... it is not Budiansky’s mathematical acumen but rather his emotional empathy that carries readers into the brilliant theorist’s fatal descent into the depression and paranoia that cause irrational self-starvation. A portrait remarkable both for its intellectual depth and for its compassion.