The appellation “polymath” is often lightly bestowed, but it can be applied with confidence to the celebrated philosopher Willard Van Orman Quine. Quine’s areas of interest are panoramic, as this lively book amply demonstrates.
Moving from A (alphabet) to Z (zero), Quiddities roams through more than eighty topics, each providing a full measure of piquant thought, wordplay, and wisdom, couched in easy and elegant prose—“Quine at his unbuttoned best,” in Donald Davidson’s words. Philosophy, language, and mathematics are the subjects most fully represented; tides of entries include belief, communication, free will, idiotisms, longitude and latitude, marks, prizes, Latin pronunciation, tolerance, trinity. Even the more technical entries are larded with homely lore, anecdote, and whimsical humor.
Quiddities will be a treat for admirers of Quine and for others who like to think, who care about language, and who enjoy the free play of intellect on topics large and small. For this select audience, it is an ideal book for browsing.