The Dot and the Line

A Romance in Lower Mathematics
Author(s): 
Norton Juster
Copyright: 
1963
Publisher: 
Sea Star Books
Binding: 
Sewn Hardcover
Number of pages: 
70 pages
Subject(s): 
Grade / Age level: 
Resource Type: 
Review: 

Freedom is not a license for chaos. is my son's signature below his email messages. It was written by Norton Juster, of The Phantom Toolbooth fame, and it comes from our almost-17-year-old's favorite book.

The phrase is the turning point and premise of this amazing, simply delightful little Math book. Math? That is our son's most disliked subject. Wait, The Dot and the Line is not a Math book! It is a hilarious comedy! But is that all? It is a romance, a story of love deeply felt, pursued, capable of provoking great things in the soul. In a little math book? Is it possible? Yes, it is.

Our classic languages-loving son reads it aloud every time this book visits us from the library. He suffers with the straight, dull and unbending line when driven to the "edge" (of the paper-- the line is drawn on the edge of the page) as the "perfect by every measure" dot flirts around with the anarchist, slothful squiggle. Moved by great love, the line at first attempts to show its own grandeur by asserting its importance in art, world politics, sports. To no avail: the dot is not impressed. Then the unimaginable happens: when almost giving up, the line, using great concentration, becomes able to make angles!

What follows next is what makes this little book a great book: the enthusiastic line makes more and more angles in a chaotic frenzy, until... it realizes that chaos without order leads nowhere. It stops, straightens itself again and it discovers that freedom is not a license for chaos. From then on, life changes for the line: exercising great control and virtue, it discovers a new world:

For months he practiced in secret. Soon he was making squares and triangles, hexagons, parallelograms, rhomboids, polyhedrons, trapezoids, parallelepiped, decagons, tetragrams and an infinite number of other shapes so complex that he had to letter his sides and angles to keep his place. Before long he had learned to carefully control ellipses, circles and complex curves...

Ah, the virtue of Mathematics! The beauty of its exact angles and dimensions. The rhythm, art and music of what it is able to create, using exercise and order! I will refrain from spoiling it completely for the new reader, but let me repeat the "moral" of the story: to the vector, the spoils.

The back jacket, after telling us that the author, among other things, runs "a support group for negative numbers" (one can glimpse Mr. Juster's opinion of the state of the culture in the 60s) mentions an award winning film, and I found it on You Tube. I was happy to see that that the screenplay was also written by the author but I warn you that the book is much better. This new edition has wonderful graphics and some different pictures as well.

Review Date: 
4-21-09
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