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Zero: The Biography of a Dangerous Idea (2000)

by Charles Seife

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
2,142445,724 (3.82)35
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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» See also 35 mentions

English (43)  French (1)  All languages (44)
Showing 1-5 of 43 (next | show all)
A very interesting book about the number zero, why almost everyone hates it, and why it will ultimately destroy the universe. ( )
  Jimbookbuff1963 | Jun 5, 2021 |
No other number can do so much damage, so says Charles Seife. He tells you this as he is explaining the Golden Ratio, how Winston Churchill is equal to a vegetable, and how you can make your very own wormhole. Mathematics, religion, philosophy, art, engineering, history: they all connect to zero. Mathematics is a more obvious element, but take religion: Shiva, one of the three gods in the Hindu triumvirate, represents nothing because Shiva's role is to destroy the universe in order to perpetually recreate it. Seife goes deep to illustrate the importance of the zero and how, historically, it created as well as calmed chaos. Zero is historical and humorous, informative and even a little emotional. ( )
  SeriousGrace | Jan 29, 2021 |
You may be surprised to learn that 'zero' didn't really exist as a concept in Western mathematics and philosophy until surprisingly late in the history game, though it was born among the ancient Babylonians. Even as the idea of zero as a number took root in Europe it was at odds with theology, so resistance to it was both vigorous and enduring. Thankfully, rational minds eventually prevailed, making way for new thought and possibilities, but also presenting new paradoxes for math geeks to chew on for hundreds of years.

I loved the idea of this book, and I'm grateful to it for giving me a better understanding of some mathematical concepts, including what 'rational' and 'irrational' really mean in practice. It's been some decades since I've studied philosophy, calculus or physics, so some ideas almost certainly went over my head, but the author does a decent job explaining complex thoughts in laymen's terms. That said, to me it seemed to stray a bit from its purported premise, and the second half felt like slightly more of a slog than the history-rich opening. ( )
  ryner | Aug 13, 2020 |
This book was entrancing from start to finish, filled with fascinating information on mathematics and history. Seife follows the progression of the idea of zero through human history, and he weaves this expertly with tales from many disciplines: art, philosophy, engineering and more. Well written and endlessly entertaining, I see myself rereading this over and over. ( )
  Hefau | Sep 19, 2019 |
This is probably better suited to someone who hasn't read much about the history of maths/physics before, but it's a nice framing device, and I did like the parts about conflicts between religion and science. It covered a lot of old ground for me, but ymmv. ( )
  tronella | Jun 22, 2019 |
Showing 1-5 of 43 (next | show all)
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» Add other authors (5 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Charles Seifeprimary authorall editionscalculated
Zillgitt, MichaelÜbersetzersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed

Belongs to Publisher Series

Goldmann (15054)
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The story of zero is an ancient one.
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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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