As a satire, Flatland offered pointed observations on the social hierarchy of Victorian culture. However, the novella's more enduring contribution is its examination of dimensions; in a foreword to one of the many publications of the novella, noted science writer Isaac Asimov described Flatland as "The best introduction one can find into the manner of perceiving dimensions." As such, the novella is still popular amongst mathematics, physics and computer science students.
A first-rate fictional guide to the concept of multiple dimensions of space, the book will also appeal to those who are interested in computer graphics. This field, which literally makes higher dimensions seeable, has aroused a new interest in visualization. We can now manipulate objects in four dimensions and observe their three-dimensional slices tumbling on the computer screen. But how do we interpret these images? In his introduction, Thomas Banchoff points out that there is no better way to begin exploring the problem of understanding higher-dimensional slicing phenomena than reading this classic novel of the Victorian era.
In Flatland, the more sides a man has, the more powerful he is. Triangles are laborers and soldiers. Squares and pentagons are middle-class doctors and lawyers. Hexagons are nobility. Women, however, are straight lines, incapable of advancement in a two-dimensional world. Everything in Flatland is clear-cut and orderly, until the day an average citizen—a Square—dreams of a land of three dimensions. If three dimensions are possible, why not four? Or one? Soon, the Square’s provocative imagination and corresponding adventures threaten to turn the whole of Flatland against him.
First published in 1884, two decades before Einstein’s theory of relativity defined time as the fourth dimension, Edwin Abbott’s Flatland is both a prescient exploration of the unseen and a delightful skewering of Victorian social strictures.
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