Feynman + Holocaust = In Search of the Fulcrum by Zdzislaw Alexander Melzak. The author is a scholar, a mathematician, a brilliant analytic thinker, a retired professor, a Canadian. He's also a Jew born in Poland, who as a teenager survived the Nazi death camps.

This is an important book. It's also frustrating --- like listening to a slighty dotty genius grand-uncle who can't help but interrupt himself as he alternately reminisces and rants. Melzak dissects the events of his life. He places his own mental processes under a microscope, in much the same fashion as celebrity physicist Richard P. Feynman sometimes did. He remembers. He questions.

Melzak is by turns poetic and crude, objective and intimate. In Search of the Fulcrum is told from a zeroth-person viewpoint --- deeper and more introspective than even a confessional autobiography. Following the mathematical principle of inversion, Melzak turns his own experiences inside-out in his quest for meaning. On occasion he glimpses the goal.

Perhaps Fulcrum most desperately needs an editor. Maybe the project would have worked better as a hypertext, a nonlinear graph with heavy cross-linkage among its nodes. (Wiki?!) It certainly could use an index. A road-map would help too.

But then again, it may be that Fulcrum is best simply as it is: a messy complex stewpot of memories and hypotheses, jokes and guesses, gaps and glimmers --- like life. I bought it by mail, sans review or description, without even a peek at the cover, based only on its author's name and my respect for his mathematical books. Fulcrum was released late and appears to be self-published, though professionally printed and bound. My copy bears the subtitle "Part I: Accounts of Time Lost". The introduction comments, "... volumes 2 and 3 of this book will not be published in my lifetime, volume 1 may be." Thankfully, it has been. I've only begun to read it.

Z. A. Melzak is an extraordinary human being. His spirit is summarized by an epitaph that he wrote for himself:

"He had little to be proud of except perhaps for this: that he differed in almost everything that matters from almost everybody. This sustained him in his struggles by inspiring the belief that he could not be everywhere wrong. He was profoundly grateful not for a glimpse of horror that was vouchsafed him, but for the accident of strength to bear it and to rebuild himself several times upon new foundations."

I must read, and think, more.

(see also AppliedBypasses (14 Apr 1999), KenningConstructionKit (17 Nov 1999), CreativeDevices (1 Jan 2001), ... )

TopicLiterature - TopicProfiles - TopicSociety - TopicScience - TopicLife - 2004-03-19

(correlates: EternalInstant, CarnotCycle, GoodBeyondHope, ...)