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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A very engaging, interesting, and enlightening read
The title of this book is "Zero: the Biography of a Dangerous Idea." Certainly, what Charles Seife wrote does not disappoint: it IS a biography of zero. It starts from its conception in early history, and progresses to outline its development in history through the branches of mathematics, physics, art, and even philosophy. A previous reader was disappointed...
Published on April 4 2004 by J.W.

versus
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Seems like a different book after chapter 6
Without doubt, this book has one of the best "Chapter 5's" I've ever read. "Infinite Zeros and Infidel Mathematicians" is everything a reader could want in a book. Up to chapter 5, Seife has traced the history of zero and its appearance in European math systems, starting from its origins in the Middle East to its careening path eastward and westward...
Published on Jan. 30 2004 by Sadiehawk


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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A very engaging, interesting, and enlightening read, April 4 2004
By 
J.W. "thak007" (PA, United States) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Zero: The Biography of a Dangerous Idea (Paperback)
The title of this book is "Zero: the Biography of a Dangerous Idea." Certainly, what Charles Seife wrote does not disappoint: it IS a biography of zero. It starts from its conception in early history, and progresses to outline its development in history through the branches of mathematics, physics, art, and even philosophy. A previous reader was disappointed that the book took time to focus on physics and philosophy, but keep in mind that zero is not limited only to the mathematical realm. Indeed, it is pervasive in society, and it has affected the way we view the world. So to talk about zero yet disregard its important contributions to fields other than mathematics would be a travesty.
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?).
And in response to another review earlier, the reader said that in the appendix there was a proof where a=1 and b=1, and from the equation a^2 - b^2 = a^2 - ab it can be found that 1=0 by factoring the difference of squares and dividing by (a-b). The reader commented that this is dividing by 0, that such an operation violates a fundamental law of algebra (cannot divide by zero), and that an editor should have caught it.
The point is that Seife is showing WHY you cannot divide by 0, that the result is 1=0 and that logic and mathematics would be invalid. He is showing why zero may be a 'dangerous idea'!
In conclusion, this book is superb in its writing and content. It lives up to what it was meant to do, to show the development of zero through history. It is clear, concise, and witty. You will not be disappointed.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Seems like a different book after chapter 6, Jan. 30 2004
This review is from: Zero: The Biography of a Dangerous Idea (Paperback)
Without doubt, this book has one of the best "Chapter 5's" I've ever read. "Infinite Zeros and Infidel Mathematicians" is everything a reader could want in a book. Up to chapter 5, Seife has traced the history of zero and its appearance in European math systems, starting from its origins in the Middle East to its careening path eastward and westward. Chapters 0 and 1 are a bit plodding but 2-4 are more than adequate. Chapter 5, as well as Chapter 6, is wonderful-- this is where Seife speaks about how zero was essential for the scientific revolution in europe, with calculus, Newton, Leibniz, and Kepler. The discussions on L'Hopital's rule and fluxions are a little confusing, but their minor quibbles here. What makes these two chapters so useful is that Seife talks about all those weird mathematical problems with scary symbols and confusing references that we're all familiar with from math class, and does a really good job. He uses intuitive descriptions to make sense out of otherwise incomprehensible concepts-- a tangent, for example, is explained by pointing out how an object swung on a string, when released, flies in a tangent line to the string's curve, with the same going for a ball released by a pitcher moving an arm in an arc before releasing the baseball. Also useful is the explanation of the two foci of an ellipse, with the description of lines of light sent out from one focus ultimately reflecting and centering upon the next focus. I encountered all these concepts in math class and couldn't understand why they were important or what they meant, and Seife explains the origins of these problems, their importance, and how all those terms and equations came about. He makes the difficult seem intuitive. Even his tangents and side discussions, while occasionally distracting, are usually entertaining and fun in these chapters.
I would've given the book 4 stars if it had stopped at Chapter 6, where Seife seems to be most on top of his material-- math, it's history, and the way it was changed when zero entered the picture. But the whole book is undone by the last three chapters. These are the ones that deal with physics and astrophysics, and the book just seems out of its element here. The last chapter, "Chapter Infinity-- End Time," has both a too-cute (to the point of being lame) title as well as a smorgasbord of confusing statements, weak logic, and unsubstantiated conclusions. The earlier two chapters aren't much better. They touch on a lot of subjects and do begin to explore them somewhat, but explain none of them very well. It's almost as if we're reading a different book by a different author after Chapter 6! Few things are more frustrating in a book than inconsistency like this. I'd get it for the first 6 chapters alone, but this seems to be a good example of the value of quitting while so far ahead in the project.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Not recommended, Nov. 15 2003
By 
SuzieQ (Toronto, Ontario, Canada) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Zero: The Biography of a Dangerous Idea (Paperback)
This book was recommended to us as "ancillary reading" in Maths because it supposedly 1. would improve our understanding of how zero entered modern number systems and allowed for the foundations of calculus, and 2. help us to understand how the approaching-the-limit procedures basic to calculus are actually used in some applicable examples. It has done neither. The book jumps around far too much in its treatment of the history part. It would have better served its subject by more coherently examining how and why zero was initially left out and the practical reasons that it was let back into mathematics. The author seems to believe that there was some kind of philosophical conspiracy against the poor number among the Greeks, but the omission of zero from early number systems seems to result more from the fact that early civilisations did not find it useful in their daily affairs, except insofar as the Babylonians used it as a place-holder. Its acceptance later had more to do with its utility to merchants than to a philosophical "awakening" as the author seems to believe, and he should have given more attention to this commercial aspect.
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.
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3.0 out of 5 stars On par, Sept. 8 2011
This review is from: Zero: The Biography of a Dangerous Idea (Paperback)
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 style, but there are glimpses into math history - in pictures of old writing systems, etc - that I found interesting. This book is average.
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4.0 out of 5 stars A lot more than zero, Jan. 29 2010
By 
Gord McKenna (Vancouver, Canada) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Zero: The Biography of a Dangerous Idea (Paperback)
Seife writes eloquantly about zero and its evil twin brother infinity in an easy to read, easy to understand text that is highly recommended. A lot of tough ideas (including Cantor's infinities) are well described and interesting. The book drifts into physics and cosmology but does so well.

Nicely written.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating, Lively and Wide-Ranging, April 2 2009
By 
G. Poirier (Orleans, ON, Canada) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Zero: The Biography of a Dangerous Idea (Paperback)
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. The notion and evolution of zero, as well as the many problems that it caused, are presented from several angles - religion, philosophy, mathematics and physics. The author does an excellent job of retaining his focus on zero while covering millennia of human history and mathematical thought. The writing style is clear, engaging, lively, friendly, often witty and occasionally humorous. This book can be enjoyed by any dedicated general reader, although the math phobic may feel uncomfortable through good parts of it. Science buffs, on the other hand, will likely have been exposed to much of the mathematics and science discussed here, but the fascinating historical aspects alone make it very much worth the read for them as well.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Fantastic Read, Sept. 23 2007
This review is from: Zero: The Biography of a Dangerous Idea (Paperback)
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. The Biography presents a grand picture through a series of anecdotes, mixed with a fair bit of mathematics understandable by everyone. This book gives an idea of the history and confusion behind every scientific idea our lives are founded on today.
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4.0 out of 5 stars not so dangerous, Dec 7 2005
This review is from: Zero: The Biography of a Dangerous Idea (Paperback)
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...got it from Dale books in Nova Scotia...on time and in very good condition, thank you, again,Dale Books
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4.0 out of 5 stars Zero is fundamental, June 24 2004
By A Customer
This review is from: Zero: The Biography of a Dangerous Idea (Paperback)
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 electrodynamic sea of spacetimemassenergy, i.e. the "zero point field," among other things, reveals him to be among the least imaginitive of physicists. His dismissive proposition that "nothing can come from nothing," overlooks the very simple fact that the QED sea of energy is hardly "nothing," otherwise there would be no such thing as Brownian motion or the Casimir Effect, not to mention the space, time, mass, and energy of our universe. Hal Puthoff claims that a cupful of this so called "vacuum energy" could boil away the oceans of our planet. (The most intriguing concept of "zero" is that promulageted by today's heretics such as Tom Bearden.) Presumably, however, Seife's math and philosophical history of zero is accurate. Before reading this book, this reader had known very little of it, and it was this part that he found quite enjoyable.
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3.0 out of 5 stars A good summary, June 16 2004
By 
Wombat (American Outback) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Zero: The Biography of a Dangerous Idea (Paperback)
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 scientific) revolutions of the 1600s and still today. It's part history, part math primer, and part practical guide, with the later chapters focussing on how the zero is used in physics and astronomy.
Seiff has an engaging style and he doesn't talk down or talk above the reader. Although Seiff obviously is an expert in difficult math, he doesn't overwhelm you with equations or get too abstract. Even sections on trig and calculus are written in everyday language that you can easily follow. The book does begin to trail off at Chapter 7-8, from here much of the book seems like filler. I preferred "The Nothing That Is" (also about the zero number) a little because I was more interested in the history and that book covers it more, but Seiff still does a fine job here with history of zero, and his book is probably more useful for students trying to know how to use the zero and it's concepts for their math classes, especially figuring out the limit and other calculations.
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Zero: The Biography of a Dangerous Idea
Zero: The Biography of a Dangerous Idea by Charles Seife (Paperback - Sept. 7 2000)
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