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Zero: The Biography of a Dangerous Idea (2000)
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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)
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.
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