[I am a firm believer in the mantra “Read and let read!” I rarely hate a book, and I rarely stop reading a book before I reach the last page. I believe that if someone has put effort into writing something, it’s worth struggling through…to an extent. And so, when Douglas Hofstadter (yes, the same brilliant mind that won the Pulitzer for Godel, Escher, Bach, and perhaps the inspiration for Leonard’s last name in The Big Bang Theory) came out with Surfaces and Essences I was excited to read it. But the first two sentences stopped me cold: “In this book about thinking, analogies and concepts will play the starring role, for without concepts there can be no thought, and without analogies there can be no concepts. This is the thesis that we will develop and support throughout the book.” Boring, badly written, and unfortunately, a sad prologue to the rest of the book. I know thousands of people out there will disagree with me, and I’m ok with that because I did read the whole book (cursing throughout) so I have an opinion to share. And share I will. As a kindness to the next person to read the book, I put this disclaimer on the first page:]
Stop! Before you go any farther (wait, is a page a physical measurement, or should it be further? Crap!) – before you dedicate a minute, an hour, a day or days on this book, there is something you need to know: it’s not worth your time. There. I said it. It took a lot of guts, trust me. I can express to you in about 2 sticky notes the entire book:
An analogy is drawing an inference or comparison from and between two objects or concepts. It’s the rhetorical equivalent of a metaphor OR
A is to B as C is to D.
That is ALL you need to know. Sure, there are great examples throughout Surfaces and Essences (mostly about two men going out for coffee but not ordering coffee) but Hofstadter always goes one step too far – moving from obvious to painful. Please read the section on the sandwich for a perfect example of what I’m talking about (pg 214). If you can stomach that then you might make it through the book.
Many of the ideas are hijacked from others and the organization is pretty weak (in my opinion). That being said, you will read what you want to read, my opinion be damned. But don’t say I didn’t warn you!
PS – feel free to tell me where to shove it at firstname.lastname@example.org
[What is the worst book you’ve ever read?]