Stephen Budianshky 2021. Journey to the Edge of Reason. The life of Kurt Gödel. OUP, 355 pp.

According to Einstein, Kurt Gödel was the greatest logician since Plato. Showed that within an system there are statements that are true yet cannot be shown to be true. Yet also a paranoid hypchondriac who thought his doctors were trying to poison him and eventually starved himself to death. Genius has narrow bounds.

The major achievements of the greatest modern philosopher (Immanuel Kant 1724–1804) and the greatest modern logician (Kurt Gödel 1906-1978) were to define the limits of knowledge.

Stephen Budiansky (also a biographer of Charles Ives) has written a wonderfully informative and insightful book. The two sections most deserving of repeat reading are Budiansky’s description of Gödel’s proof, and also his historical context for Austria in the years before and during Gödel’s life. “No demon ate at Austrian society more than ani-Semetism” (p. 31). Not only during the Nazi years but starting in the 1890s at the hands of a Trumpian mayor of Vienna, Karl Lueger. Yet before then (dying finally with the First World War) there had been a liberal era (“The Good Habsburg” etc, pp. 11-37) when Jews were able to participate fully in society resulting in an explosion of art, music, science, mathematics, philosophy similar to that which occurred due to expatriot Jews who survived the Second World War. Nazi Germany’s elimination of Jews began in the 1890s.