William Egginton: The Rigor of Angels

Group biographies are having a moment as of late, but it’s unusual for them to connect disparate fields of study, expertise, or creative pursuits. More often than not, they focus on a group of contemporaries, friends, rivals, even lovers, who share space within a city, a university, even a building, so there is already a built-in physical connection as foundation. In William Egginton’s fascinating book, The Rigor of Angels, we see new links between literature, philosophy, and science that may not have been apparent to us before reading this history of ideas. But the three stars in question, Kant, Borges, and Heisenberg, never met, at least in this universe.

Egginton grounds this thought-provoking tour of intellectual history primarily within individual lives, but he sustains connections with an accessible dive into the stream(s) of their obsessions, distilling difficult ideas without losing the threads that bind. Zeno, Dante, Einstein, and other key luminaries add further insights and contrary views, as they join the central trio on the journey to uncover the ultimate nature of reality. Fail. Try again. Fail again, and so on.

The Rigor of Angels reminds us that we humans are at our best when we avoid (lifeless) assertions of absolute certainty, especially when it comes to the Cosmos and our place within the All. Especially when it comes to thinking we know it all. We are at our best, generally speaking, when we search long and hard, but remain forever humble in our questing, humbly awed by the Everywhere and Nowhere.

William Egginton: The Rigor of Angels
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