The Rigor of Angels: Borges, Heisenberg, Kant, and the Ultimate Nature of Reality


Product Details

$32.00  $29.76
Pantheon Books
Publish Date
6.2 X 9.3 X 1.5 inches | 1.2 pounds

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About the Author

WILLIAM EGGINTON is the Decker Professor in the Humanities, chair of the Department of Modern Languages and Literatures, and Director of the Alexander Grass Humanities Institute at Johns Hopkins University. He is the author of multiple books, including How the World Became a Stage (2003), Perversity and Ethics (2006), A Wrinkle in History (2007), The Philosopher's Desire (2007), The Theater of Truth (2010), In Defense of Religious Moderation (2011), The Man Who Invented Fiction: How Cervantes Ushered in the Modern World (2016), The Splintering of the American Mind (2018), and The Rigor of Angels (2023), which explores the respective conceptions of reality in the thought of Borges, Kant, and Heisenberg. He is co-author with David Castillo of Medialogies: Reading Reality in the Age of Inflationary Media (2017) and What Would Cervantes Do? Navigating Post-Truth with Spanish Baroque Literature (2022). His next book, on the philosophical, psychoanalytic, and surrealist dimensions of the work of Chilean director Alejandro Jodorowsky, will be published in 2024.


Praise for The Rigor of Angels

"[A] mind-expanding book. . . . Elegantly written. . . . This is a book about the tiniest of things--the position of an electron, an instant of change. It is also about the biggest of things--the cosmos, infinity, the possibility of free will. Egginton works through ideas by grounding them in his characters' lives. . . . The beauty of this book is that Egginton encourages us to recognize all of these complicated truths as part of our reality, even if the 'ultimate nature' of that reality will remain forever elusive. We are finite beings whose perspective will always be limited; but those limits are also what give rise to possibility. When we choose what to observe, we insert our freedom to choose into nature. As Egginton writes, 'We are, and ever will be, active participants in the universe we discover.'"
--The New York Times

"This is intellectual history of the highest order, an acrobatic feat that examines how the lives of Jorge Luis Borges, Werner Heisenberg, and Immanuel Kant all show the falsity of what we assume is fixed reality. What a poet, physicist, and philosopher can teach us about life and its uncertainties is told in exhilarating detail, and William Egginton makes his insights accessible even to readers who are none of the above. Love, quantum mechanics, and free will have never been dealt with so engagingly. Do not let that previous sentence scare you. The Rigor of Angels is immensely rewarding."
--Air Mail

"The Rigor of Angels is a book of tremendous intelligence and beauty. William Egginton makes the paradoxes of physics, metaphysics, and literature intelligible by showing how these paradoxes shape the limits of the visible world and the possibilities of the invisible one. His writing reminds us that the best humanist inquiry unites the arts and the sciences in the patient pursuit of the truth."
--Merve Emre, Shapiro-Silverberg Professor of Creative Writing and Criticism at Wesleyan University and contributing writer at The New Yorker

"A fascinating reflection!"
--Carlo Rovelli, New York Times best-selling author of Anaximander and the Birth of Science and Seven Brief Lessons on Physics

"Humans are ambitious folk; we want to be able to know everything. But the world repeatedly confounds us with limitations on what can be known, and inescapable mediators between ourselves and the truth. William Egginton draws compelling connections between Borges, Kant, and Heisenberg, three of our most audacious theorists of limitation. We are left marveling at how much we are nevertheless able to capture of that elusive quarry called reality."
--Sean Carroll, New York Times best-selling author of The Biggest Ideas in the Universe: Space, Time, and Motion

"Physicists attempt to explain reality, poets provide our emotional response to it, and philosophers try to establish cerebral connections. All of these endeavors are plagued with uncertainty. Werner Heisenberg, Jorge Luis Borges, and Immanuel Kant struggled with this uncertainty throughout their entire lives. Egginton takes us on an illuminating journey through the fascinating labyrinth created by their intertwined intellectual paths."
--Mario Livio, author of The Golden Ratio and Galileo and the Science Deniers

"This book brilliantly weaves together the core ideas of three of the greatest minds of Western literature, philosophy, and physics into a soul-searching narrative. Egginton masterfully illuminates the paradox of being human, of being caught between the search for the order behind things and the magic of the transcendent, of knowing that we are playthings in the hands of time, as our lives continually fork as we make choices and we become one self while imagining countless others."
--Marcelo Gleiser, author of The Dawn of a Mindful Universe: A Manifesto for Humanity's Future

"Poetry, science, philosophy--for the ancients, these intellectual-artistic pursuits taught us what it is to be human: how to transcend our current station, how to grow and flourish, how to remain humble in the face of mystery and failure. Egginton's The Rigor of Angels is a stark reminder of what each of us can achieve if we only remember what remarkable beings we are."
--John Kaag, author of Hiking with Nietzsche