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Zero: The Biography of a Dangerous Idea (2000)

by Charles Seife

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Showing 1-5 of 37 (next | show all)
Interesting read. Most surprising the representation of complex numbers as points on a globe. The physics part at the end seemed a bit far fetched. ( )
  stef7sa | Jan 5, 2017 |
Excellent: will aim to read the whole book -- from reading the two samples, preferred this over the Kaplan book on zero.
  lulaa | Nov 18, 2016 |
Excellent book. If you are a student of history and math this is a book for you. ( )
  rmartello | Jun 21, 2016 |
This is an interesting discussion of the role of zero and infinity in the development of mathematics and science. I felt I understood what I read only up through the first half. After that, the author's carefully limited discussions allowed me to follow along, even though I didn't take in everything. ( )
  baobab | Nov 5, 2015 |
Generally lively and fun book w/ a few flaws. The somewhat inaccurate historical asides as footnotes are a bit troubling, but sometimes they end up in parentheses instead, which is more annoying. The preface, about a division-by-zero error in some software on a US Navy ship is just too metaphorical to be anything but ridiculous to a practicing software engineer. The illustration enliven the book w/out generally contributing much to understanding. Chapter 1 discusses number systems and some of the arithmetic properties of 0. Chapter 2 discusses many aspects of Greek mathematics and also the fact that our calendar has no year 0. I tend not to celebrate arbitrary dates, so I never took any interest in the "when is the true millenium?" discussion, and I still don't. Chapter 3 gives credit to the Hindu mathematicians for actual inventing zero and our decimal number system and digits, talks about numerology, and the Fibonacci sequence, and gives an etymology for the word "stockholder". Chapter 4 discusses Copernicus and Ptolemy, the Cartesian coordinate system, the vanishing point in perspective drawing, atmospheric pressure, and Pascal's wager. Chapter 5 is mostly about the early stages of calculus, from Archimedes' method of exhaustion to Newton, Leibniz, Bishop Berkley, and L'Hopital's rule. The connection with zero is often tenuous, but a book that was actually just about zero would probably be very boring. There is some discussion about a connection between math and religion; I know about the Pythagoreans and their distress over irrational numbers...but the rest just seems goofy.

All in all, a fun read w/ some real math in it. ( )
  themulhern | Mar 8, 2015 |
Showing 1-5 of 37 (next | show all)
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The story of zero is an ancient one.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0140296476, Paperback)

The seemingly impossible Zen task--writing a book about nothing--has a loophole: people have been chatting, learning, and even fighting about nothing for millennia. Zero: The Biography of a Dangerous Idea, by noted science writer Charles Seife, starts with the story of a modern battleship stopped dead in the water by a loose zero, then rewinds back to several hundred years BCE. Some empty-headed genius improved the traditional Eastern counting methods immeasurably by adding zero as a placeholder, which allowed the genesis of our still-used decimal system. It's all been uphill from there, but Seife is enthusiastic about his subject; his synthesis of math, history, and anthropology seduces the reader into a new fascination with the most troubling number.

Why did the Church reject the use of zero? How did mystics of all stripes get bent out of shape over it? Is it true that science as we know it depends on this mysterious round digit? Zero opens up these questions and lets us explore the answers and their ramifications for our oh-so-modern lives. Seife has fun with his format, too, starting with chapter 0 and finishing with an appendix titled "Make Your Own Wormhole Time Machine." (Warning: don't get your hopes up too much.) There are enough graphs and equations to scare off serious numerophobes, but the real story is in the interactions between artists, scientists, mathematicians, religious and political leaders, and the rest of us--it seems we really do have nothing in common. --Rob Lightner

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:21:51 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

The Babylonians invented it, the Greeks banned it, the Hindus worshipped it, and the Church used it to fend off heretics. Today, zero lies at the heart of one of the biggest scientific controversies of all time, the quest for the theory of everything. Line illustrations. Zero follows the number from its birth as an Eastern philosophical concept to its struggle for acceptance in Europe and its apotheosis as the mystery of the black hole. Elegant, witty, and utterly fascinating, Zero takes us from Aristotle to superstring theory by way of Pythagoras, Descartes, the Kabbalists, and Einstein. It is a compelling look at the strangest number in the universe, and one of the greatest paradoxes of human thought. "A stunning chronicle."-U.S. News & World Report. "Entertainingly traces the history of numbers from 30,000 years ago, down to the role that zero plays in contemporary cosmological theory. After finishing, his readers will feel they've accomplished a considerable something."-the New York Times. "Charles Seife has made a marvelously entertaining something out of nothing. By simply telling the tale of zero, Seife provides a fresh and fascinating history not only of mathematics but also of science, philosophy, theology, and even art. An impressive debut for a promising young science writer."-John Horgan.… (more)

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