Zero: The Biography of a Dangerous Idea Paperback – Sep 1 2000
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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 --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From Publishers Weekly
In a lively and literate first book, science journalist Seife takes readers on a historical, mathematical and scientific journey from the infinitesimal to the infinite. With clever devices such as humorously titled and subtitled chapters numbered from zero to infinity, Seife keeps the tone as light as his subject matter is deep. By book's end, no reader will dispute Seife's claim that zero is among the most fertile--and therefore most dangerous--ideas that humanity has devised. Equally powerful and dangerous is its inseparable counterpart, infinity, for both it and zero invoke to many the divine power that created an infinite universe from the void. The power of zero lies in such a contradiction, and civilization has struggled with it, alternatively seeking to ban and to embrace zero and infinity. The clash has led to holy wars and persecutions, philosophical disputes and profound scientific discoveries. In addition to offering fascinating historical perspectives, Seife's prose provides readers who struggled through math and science courses a clear window for seeing both the powerful techniques of calculus and the conundrums of modern physics: general relativity, quantum mechanics and their marriage in string theory. In doing so, Seife, this entertaining and enlightening book reveals one of the roots of humanity's deepest uncertainties and greatest insights. BOMC selection. (Feb.)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Top Customer Reviews
Seife's book is a very engaging and enlightening read. Seife looks at how zero has become: the foundation for calculus (taking limits to zero), a revolutionary idea in art (3d drawings have a point of infinity to give depth perception...and infinity and zero are just different sides of the same coin), an important concept of the numberline, and many other places. Indeed, I have read this book many times, sometimes for a quick browse and sometimes for an indepth read, and it has always been a pleasure to read.
Moreover, Seife is very knowledgeable in what he writes, and he brings a sense of humor as well--if you have ever read his article about the debate on cold fusion in 'Science' or 'Scientific American' (it was one or the other, its been a while since that article was published in the early 90s I believe) you'll see his sense of humor in his concluding paragraph (cold fusion or confusion anyone?).Read more ›
The second part of the book, which considers the uses of zero in practical mathematics and technical fields, suffers from the same flaw that hampers the first part. The author is far too enamoured of zero as a sort of semi-philosophical keystone and he fails to explain why zero's inclusion has been truly useful. He becomes self-indulgent in the extent to which he admires the number and gets drawn so astray in the admiration of his subject that a dispassionate reader is left wondering what his point is. The latter pages are an especial let-down because the author briefly talks about some interesting subjects in physics and astronomy without addressing them in proper depth or making sense out of them. Disappointing overall.
Most recent customer reviews
I disagree with the negative reviews; criticising a book that references well known historical facts without thouroughly explaining them isn't really fair.
The humour amid the facts, the light touch on mathematical areas, and the easy flow of information make this book a delight to read. Read morePublished 18 months ago by Dr. Brenda Molloy-Measures
If you're looking for a book that gives a little bit of the history of math, this is your book. It's slow-paced and short, and I was personally not interested by the writing... Read morePublished on Sept. 8 2011 by estrellaespirit
Seife writes eloquantly about zero and its evil twin brother infinity in an easy to read, easy to understand text that is highly recommended. Read morePublished on Jan. 29 2010 by Gord McKenna
This is a book about the concept of zero throughout the ages - from pre-historic times when counting began (but zero was not needed) to the present. Read morePublished on April 2 2009 by George Poirier
I would never have believed it myself, but of all the books sitting in my shelf, this is one of those that I reread the most. Read morePublished on Sept. 23 2007 by Vick
as the title suggests, this book is not so dangerous...but, very interesting...found it to be informative and a definite read for all high school addicts and wanna bees... Read morePublished on Dec 7 2005 by barb shaver
Entertaining book for students of philosophy, historians, and math neophytes, but Seife's simple-minded application of the principle of the conservation of energy to the quantum... Read morePublished on June 24 2004
Despite the abstract nature of it's subject matter, this book is a surprisingly breezy and informative read about the history of zero and it's value in the mathematics (and... Read morePublished on June 16 2004 by Wombat