When we cease to understand the world by Benjamin Labatut

When we cease to understand the world by Benjamin Labatut

Chilean  fiction

Original title – Un verdor terrible

Translator – Adrian Nathan West

Source – review copy

I’m late to this it has already been on a couple of year-end lists in the papers I have seen. itis described as a non-fiction novel. To me it is a digressive work the like I have read by another Spanish language writer Augustin Mallo who also uses scientific facts and history in his stories. Benjamin Labatut own Life story is as interesting Born in Rotterdam he grew up in Hague, Buenos Aires, and Lima a real mix of places. He has had two works of fiction out and this is his first book to be translated into English and he has called it a non-fiction Novel.

In a medical examination on the eve of Nuremburg trials, the doctors found the nails of Hermann Goring’s fingers and toes stained a furious red, the consequence of his addiction to Dihydrocodeine, an analgesic of which he took more than one hunderd pills a day. William Burroughs described it as similar to heroinm twice as stong as codeine, but with a weird coke like edge, so the north American doctors felt obliged to cure Goring of his dependency before allowing him to stand before the court. This was not easy.When the allied forces caught him, the Nazi leader was dragging a suitcase with more than twenty thpusand dosesmpartiically all that remianed of Germany’s production of the drug at the end of the second world war.

The opening  stry and lines of the book grab you straight away.

I see this as a collection of interlinking essays or stories somewhere in between. It starts with Prussian blue which starts with the Addicted medication Dihydrocodeine that Goring took in large quantities with resulting effects on his body and the writer William Burroughs took over the years and he compared it to heroin. as he used it on mass the story winds around a mix of history and little stories. Till we get to the invention of the color Prussian Blue. The favorite of this collection is The heart of the heart which has at its heart Mathematicians tales starting with the Japanese blogger Schinichi Mochizuki whose 600-page thesis on the proof of him solving A+B+C a thesis which no one has understood to this point this leads to one of the best-known Mathematician Alexander Grothendieck a man who won the fields medal and was a leading thinker of his time but he withdrew from the world and started to live like a hermit in France racing around the countryside in a Hurst he published a 1000 page autobiography about his time in the maths world a piece that showed how everyone he had been connected with had used him to launch their own careers this work is being translated into English and struck me as a singular work.I will let you discover the tales and journeys in this book.

“The great turning point” was the term Grothendieck used to decribe the change in the direction of his life during his forties. ALl at once, he found himself swept up by thespirit of the age: he became obsessed by ecology, the military industrial complex and nuclear proliferation. To his wife’s despair, he founded a commune at home, where vagabonds, professiirs, hippes, pacifists, theives nuns and prostitutes dwelt side by side .

He became intolerent of all comforts of bourgeois life; he tore up the carpets from the floors of his house, considering them superfluous adornments, and began to make his own clothign; sandals from recycled tires, trousers sewn from old burlap sacks.He stopped using a bed, instead sleeping on a door torn from its hinges.

THe change in his life views that changed Alexander Grithendieck into a hermit over the years and withdraw from life.

I lived this I am a huge fan of digressive books since reading Sebald in my twenties I am always after books that break the mould that drifts from here to there stories we know titbits or as I remember Irwin’s character in The history boys calls it gobits those little gems we have heard but have forgotten or have never been written down from how Goering dies or we discovered Prussian blue this takes us through those gobits of the science world. I discovered Alexander Grothendieck an interesting figure that I had never heard of and this is what I love about these books they are the journey of the mind and you set sail and discover new ports to try at a later date historic figures pieces of history. This is a voyage through science wonderfully entertaining and engaging it is well-paced. A new writer to the blog and one I will be reading again. Have you tried this book?

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