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mike js

Janna Levin and a story for The Moth

I see there is recently a book that collects some of the 'Moth' true stories, told live, with an introduction by Neil Gaiman. The Moth: This is a True Story

I don't know much about the Moth stories, except that the first in the book is by the cosmologist, Janna Levin. There is a video of her telling her story at a festival, and I hope it might interest some. It is about 15 minutes long, and a cracker I think.

Janna Levin is a really interesting occasional writer, to me. Her A Madman Dreams of Turing Machines is extraordinary, being a fictionalised account of a connection between Kurt Godel and Alan Turing. I hope it is all right to repost what I said about it in my blog thread:

Based on the lives and deaths of Kurt Godel and Alan Turing, this story hurts. Two great thinkers, transcendent for a while. Two stalled flights. Too soon into the ground.

Kurt Godel, who stunned mathematics with his incompleteness theorems, starved himself to death in 1978. Alan Turing, now considered a father of computing and lauded as a key code breaker at Bletchley Park, was chemically castrated after being convicted as a homosexual in 1952. Two years later he took his own life.

This book isn't a way to think about the ideas of these mathematicians. It is a way to powerfully feel something they might have felt; about clean ideas and muddy life. The prose really took hold of me and sometimes seemed close to poetry in its description. It interleaves the stories of the two men, often using present tense in a way I found very effective. The care of Godel's wife for her broken husband is shown quietly and movingly. But the scene of Turing's suicide is shocking, even though it cannot be a surprise; it has a kind of terrible beauty.

Janna Levin is a physicist. I am sure she has experienced some of the joy and pain of searching for truth in mathematics or physics. I can imagine she has experienced depression. I have read her other book, How the Universe got its Spots which is a popular cosmology book, but something of a personal diary too. That's another recommended book; she really can write!

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