A Beginner’s Guide to Immortality
Clifford Pickover

By Alan L. Gordon

Clifford Pickover’s latest work is a titillating compendium of all that is delightfully weird about the universe we see around us, and about parallel universes demonstrated to be as likely as not to exist.

The full list of topics addressed in A Beginner’s Guide to Immortality: Extraordinary People, Alien Brains, and Quantum Resurrection seems too long for a medium-length book, and yet Pickover manages to give well-paced attention to widely topics ranging from artificially realities, shamanic mysticism, quantum mechanics, history’s quirkiest scholars, vintage sci-fi movies, life after death, and predictions of future technology.

Bafflingly, Beginner’s Guide just doesn’t seem voluminous enough to hold as many well-developed ideas as it does. Readers may feel as if they have absorbed the world’s most eccentric encyclopedia with only the effort of reading a Sunday newspaper — perhaps Pickover in his research has unfolded some trick of folding space and time, allowing him to encapsulate incredible volumes of data in a small package!

A major theme of the work is an examination of history’s multitalented, unusual people Pickover calls “chameleons,” uneasy souls who rarely fit comfortably into the society of their day, and yet achieve mastery of diverse, multiple disciplines from visual arts to mathematics to philosophy to music to physics to creative literature. Sketching the achievements of poorly-performing school students like Albert Einstein and the abused genius of Truman Capote (and dozens more “chameleons” of lesser and greater fame), Pickover makes the case that the world’s greatest thinkers have in common a trait elusive to the rest of us — thinking not only outside of the box, but on an entirely different plane. Pickover himself, a mathematician by training who has garnered expertise in myriad other academic arenas, seems to fall into this category.

Perhaps, after all, the author’s greatest talent is being able to draw together ideas which do not to the average mind relate, until one of the world’s most unusual minds shows us how the puzzle pieces go together. Pickover’s ability to fit so many fresh ideas into such a small space may not be a trick of physics after all, and may instead simply be his unerringly eloquent literary style, which allows him to succinctly encapsulate in few words what others could barely spell out in thick tomes.

In its quest for understanding of weird realities, Beginner’s Guide contains such diversity of thought that no reader can agree with all of its premises and prepositions, yet the work’s author maintains a splendid sense of self-questioning and humility, ultimately lending the work a greater grounding in reality. Rather than becoming offended at that which is disagreeable, purchasers of this work may find themselves learning through their reading a greater respect for any and all human quests for truth, based upon the sheer humanity of an other’s feeling. Beginner’s Guide will never assume a permanent position on most readers’ bookshelves, simply because mystical quantum forces dictate it will be frequently lent out.

Rating: **** (Must Read)

Thunder’s Mouth Press, 2006 (ISBN: 1560259841)