The Babylonians invented it, the Greeks banned it, the Hindus worshiped it, and the Church used it to fend off heretics. Now it threatens the foundations of modern physics. For centuries the power of zero savored of the demonic; once harnessed, it became the most important tool in mathematics. For zero, infinity's twin, is not like other numbers. It is both nothing and everything. In Zero, Science Journalist Charles Seife follows this innocent-looking number from its birth as an Eastern philosophical concept to its struggle for acceptance in Europe, its rise and transcendence in the West, and its ever-present threat to modern physics. Here are the legendary thinkersfrom Pythagoras to Newton to Heisenberg, from the Kabalists to today's astrophysicistswho have tried to understand it and whose clashes shook the foundations of philosophy, science, mathematics, and religion. Zero has pitted East against West and faith against reason, and its intransigence persists in the dark core of a black hole and the brilliant flash of the Big Bang. Today, zero lies at the heart of one of the biggest scientific controversies of all time: the quest for a theory of everything.
Good, but I prefer another on the subject of zero
By Alleyne - June 16, 2000
I've recently read both Charles Seife's "Zero:The Biography of a Dangerous Idea" and Robert Kaplan's "The Nothing That Is: A Natural History of Zero." They are at the same time very similar and very different. They each follow an almost identical line, presenting the evolution of zero chronologically, and they each make almost identical stops along the way. The difference is in how they treat the steps in zero's evolution which is conditioned by their differing metaphysical views. An illuminating example is how they each treat Aristotle's role in zero's history.Charles Seife, from the beginning, reifies zero: the author accepts the misconception that zero is some sort of actually existing mystical force resting at the center of black holes. He doesn't step back to take a look at the concept as concept. Nor does he appear to keep in mind that mathematics is the science of measurement, or that time is not a force or dimension, but merely a measurement... read more
It would have been better without the hyperbole
By Duwayne Anderson - May 13, 2005
This book is about the history of zero, from ancient times to modern concepts. It's quite interesting and encompasses a lot of mathematics and philosophy as well as a bit of physics.
Although the book reads well, is nicely documented, and extensively researched, the author has a style that I found aggravating; his frequent use of poetic hyperbole. This limits the book's value for someone unfamiliar with basic concepts in mathematics and physics.
I'm not sure why Seife choose this style. There seems to be a movement (hopefully short lived) among science writers to dress up science and mathematics in poetic, flowery language. Whatever the reason, science has good reason to use strict meanings for words and a disciplined approach to scientific concepts. When authors poetically use words in technically incorrect ways they can make the prose pretty, but they often create confusion.
For example, Saif says "Zero and infinity are eternally locked in a... read more
Wonderful story of God's banana peel
By Chris Johnson - March 12, 2000
It may well be the most potent force in the universe. The Greeks were scared to death of it. Aristotle wouldn't permit it(and the Catholic Church's vice-grip on Aristotelianism held Western science and mathematics back for centuries). But this force does not discriminate; it delights in tripping up secular science as well. Certain forms of mathematics must ignore it in order to work. String theory basically pretends it isn't there. It is, as stated on the book jacket, "a timebomb ticking in the heart of astrophysics."Zero.Charles Seife's history of zero(and of infinity, which is awfully close to the same thing, as Seife elegantly demonstrates)is one of the most interesting and thought-provoking books I have read in a long time. There are mathematical and scientific equations and concepts aplenty here, but they were not daunting for this manifestly un-mathematic non-scientist. Seife has a fascinating story to tell and he tells it with enthusiasm. I... read more
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