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Publisher's Summary

"An engaging, pellucid explanation of the mathematical understanding of infinity, enlivened by a historical gloss on age-old affinities..." - Washington Post Book World

Toward the end of the 19th century, one of the most brilliant mathematicians in history languished in an asylum. His greatest accomplishment, the result of a series of extraordinary leaps of insight, was his pioneering understanding of the nature of infinity.

From the acclaimed author of God's Equation comes The Mystery of the Aleph, the story of Georg Cantor: how he came to his theories and the reverberations of his pioneering work, the consequences of which will shape our world for the foreseeable future. The mindtwisting, deeply philosophical work of Cantor has its roots in ancient Greek mathematics and Jewish numerology as found in the mystical work known as the Kabbalah. Cantor's theory of the infinite is famous for its many seeming contradictions; for example, we can prove that in all time there are as many years as days, that there are as many points on a one-inch line as on a one-mile line.

While the inspiration for Cantor's mind-twisting genius lies in the very origins of mathematics, its meaning is still being interpreted. Only in 1947 did Kurt Godel prove that Cantor's Continuum Hypothesis is independent of the rest of mathematics - and that the foundations of mathematics itself are therefore shaky.

©2001 by Amir D. Aczel (P)2001 Random House, Inc.

Critic Reviews

"Mr. Aczel is very good at portraying the essences of the thoughts and lives of that quirky class of geniuses known as mathematicians". (The New York Times Book Review)

What members say

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  • Overall

beauty in numbers

I was unaware of the two egregious mispronunciations, so they did not distract from my enjoyment of the book. That said, this book does a very good job of palpably relating the fascinating nature of the underlying structures upon which modern mathematics in based and the thinking that went into their construction. I find numbers and their properties fascinating, but it usually takes lots of mental labor before the beauty reveals itself; it's like climbing and climbing and finally coming up over the top of a mountain and suddenly you perceive the wondrous landscape stretched out before you. This author has the ability to evoke that sense of wonder and fascination that comes from understanding the big (mathematical) picture.

30 of 31 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

Great book, interesting and accessible

I have enjoyed several of Aczel's books, and this one is especially interesting. He constructs a compelling narrative and explains complicated concepts in a way that I (not a mathemetician) could easily understand. The only downside to this book is that the narrator drives me crazy. I wish audible would stop using him as a narrator. If you can get past his irritating voice and bizarre inflections (he emphasizes words that can detract from the power of a sentence) then you will enjoy this book. I am currently listening to Entanglement, again by Aczel and narrated by the same guy (Leyva) and can't believe i didn't check to see who narrated it. Anyway, this book is really good and I would give it 6 stars if it weren't for Leyva's insane reading style.

7 of 7 people found this review helpful

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  • Performance
  • Story

Disappointing lack of depth, OK review of theory

What would have made The Mystery of the Aleph better?

Drop all the Kabbalah nonsense. The author attempted to make a connection between the work of mathematicians Cantor and Godel (with their unfortunate demise into insanity) and the creators of the Kabbalah in Spain, who claimed that their contemplation of the infinite drove them insane. The tepid similarity was not convincing. A better explanation would be that a high fraction of mathematicians may suffer from manic depressive disorder or at least an OCD condition. These conditions provide the kind of intense focus this kind of work requires. In the end I felt like I was listening to a UFO "documentary" on cable.

I did enjoy the portions of the books that reviewed an interesting mathematical subject.

Would you ever listen to anything by Amir D. Aczel again?

Probably no.

What does Henry Leyva bring to the story that you wouldn’t experience if you just read the book?

He was fine.

You didn’t love this book... but did it have any redeeming qualities?

Nice review of the work of Godel and Cantor.

6 of 6 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Steve
  • Maxville, FL, USA
  • 12-11-05

Solid Amir

Amir D. Aczel is an excellent writer on scientific and mathematical topics. I have come to expect readable and understandable expositions, and The Mystery of the Aleph is no exception.

The highest tribute that I can confer upon this work is that I found it helpful in contemplating some issues of Physics and Math that I have been exploring recently.

5 of 5 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Jon
  • Wapakoneta, OH, USA
  • 01-03-03

The Mystery of the Aleph

This is a wonderful listen. You don't have to be a mathematician (which I am not) to enjoy this interesting trip in time the author has so seamlessly created. I highly recommend this program to folks who have an interest in the history of man's insatiable quest for the elusive infinity.

29 of 33 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

Not a light listen but good

I am not a mathematician by any means; I consider myself numerically challenged. And, there were some challenging parts to this book; I had to rewind and re-listen to parts several times. But, I found it fascinating and worth the effort. The book discusses how the concept of infinity developed, and works it into certain religious concepts. While I doubt I "got it" all, I did get some of it, and learned about math history on the way.

4 of 4 people found this review helpful

  • Overall


This is an amazing account of how Mathematics and Mathematicians work and how it all relates to the creation of Space and Time and making order out of Chaos...
The reader was excellent as well...

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

interesting book well narrated

This is another fine book by the author. To me the subject matter wasn't quite so interesting as that of Entanglement but still an interesting read. Once again, a superb job by the narrator.
This isn't Shakespeare. It is science and the narrator couldn't have done a better job.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

Excellent, with reservations.

The book is an excellent exposition and reflection on important mathematical principles and theorems, presented in a compelling manner. My only reservation is that the narrator had difficulty pronouncing "Georg", instead pronouncing it "Gerreg" or something like that. Just a minor thing, but since much of the text concerns the mathematical genius of Georg Cantor, it is troublesome that neither the narrator nor someone who perhaps "edits" the narration sought to correct this error. Nevertheless, it is well worth a listen, maybe even several.

8 of 10 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Jean
  • Guilford, CT, United States
  • 09-24-05

really worth reading

This was a great story about how the idea of infinity contributed to Cantor's mental decline -- chicken or egg? Some of the theories explained in this book threatened to make my head spin off too. A great read. His book on Einstein is also well worth reading.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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  • Matthew
  • 06-22-07

Hard but...

very rewarding. I found myself wanting to bounce at people and go 'do you realise that the set of numbers between 0 and 1 is infinite and so is the set of numbers between 0 and 2 and that therefore they are the same size?!' Unfortunately, the mathematicians I know go, 'well, yess. Obviously. What's your point?' and everyone else looks at me as if I've gone mad...

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Performance
  • Story
  • Amazon Customer
  • 12-25-13

A stunning history of the Continuum Hypothesis

Would you consider the audio edition of The Mystery of the Aleph to be better than the print version?

I reserved the print version from my local library as an intra-library reserve, and waited and waited ... and eventually gave up. I never ever lost the desire to read this book and the print price meant that I continued to wait and then came along this audio book. I know that this was definitely more digestible than the book would have been as I found that the agreeable tone of the narrator allowed me to imaginatively think more intensely about what was being read than if I was reading myself

What was one of the most memorable moments of The Mystery of the Aleph?

the connection of the infinite that the author makes to Jewish mysticism, the Kabbalah, and the contemplations on the Divine and the toll it can have on the participant. I could see the parallels with Sufism and it also linked in with the devastating effect that the Continuum Hypothesis appeared to have, or at least served as a catalyst, in the lives of both Cantor and Godel

Have you listened to any of Henry Leyva’s other performances? How does this one compare?

No but if I find other books that I am interested in, narrated by this reader, then that would be a definite plus

Did you have an emotional reaction to this book? Did it make you laugh or cry?

Yes, I really felt that I shared the journey of both Cantor and Godel, and found myself quite angry at Leopold Kronecker and to a lesser extent Bertrand Russell. The first for his vendetta against Cantor and the second for his unkind comments.

Any additional comments?

I've watched a television documentary on the life of Cantor and have a book that covers Cantor in that it is on the Philisophy of sets, but on the core interest of Cantor and the Continuum Hypothesis , this audiobook easily eclipses the other sources. I did find particularly relevant the weaving in by the author of the influence of Jewish mysticism in the formation of Cantor's attempt to grasp the infinite, the Divine.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Vince
  • 05-12-06

My first audible book

I approached an audible book on a mathematical topic with some trepidation as I am quite a visual person and would miss any equations, graphs, diagrams etc. The nature of this book was an exploration of the infinite from earliest times through to the work of the 20th century, with a particular focus on Cantor. The experience of an audible book was good. The book was split into sections that made for easier places to stop and pick up at a later date. The content was good, but I did miss any diagrams - which at times would have made the experience even better.
As an English speaker, the American accept was a little grating at times, but I kept my listening sessions to roughly 60 minutes per session.
The content was good, and it was good to generally stick with a chronological narrative. The audio quality was very good, and suited to the spekaer's voice.

3 of 5 people found this review helpful

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  • Jack
  • 07-24-16

Infinitely good

great biographic of the concept of infinity and the characters that dared to touch it.