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This title in other editions

Zero: The Biography of a Dangerous Idea

by

Zero: The Biography of a Dangerous Idea Cover

 

Synopses & Reviews

From Powells.com:

It is difficult to imagine being scared of a number?or the absence of a number. Yet, as Charles Seife explains at the beginning of Zero: The Biography of a Dangerous Idea, "for ancient peoples zero was a foreign — and frightening — idea....zero not only evoked images of a primal void: it also had dangerous mathematical properties. Within zero there is the power to shatter the framework of logic."

The origins of mathematics is a surprisingly fascinating subject. Seife describes Mayan solar calendars, Greek ideas of geometry and ratio, and theories behind light and pressure, with a deft sureness that makes you wonder why you ever found geometry, algebra, or physics intimidating in the first place (and those of you who never did will get a kick out of it all the same). This is no small feat. However, in Zero Seife also takes the history of mathematics in surprising directions by introducing a fascinating controversy that spans centuries — a controversy involving artists, scientists, mathematicians, philosophers, as well as religious and political leaders. The eventual acceptance of zero, and its integral role in our history since the time of the Bablylonians, is a remarkable story. Seife writes with enthusiasm and clarity as he unravels the story of a concept that was once considered demonic but that today plays a key role in our efforts to solve the most difficult puzzles of our universe. Georgie, Powells.com

Publisher Comments:

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 thinkers — from Pythagoras to Newton to Heisenberg, from the Kabalists to today's astrophysicists — who 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.

Review:

"[A] lively and literate first book....[E]ntertaining and enlightening..." Publishers Weekly

Review:

"This is a very light treatment of big ideas....[F]ast-paced and colorful but repetitious, oversimplified, and exaggerated..." Library Journal

Review:

"From the first page to the last, Seife maintains a level of clarity and infectious enthusiasm that is rare in science writing, and practically unknown among those who dare to explain mathematics." Washington Post

Review:

"[Z]ero emerges as a daunting intellectual riddle in this fascinating chronicle....A must read for every armchair physicist." Booklist

Review:

"A stunning chronicle of the denial, heresy, and grudging acceptance of zero and its companion concepts, infinity and the void." U.S. News & World Report

Review:

"Zero may be nothing, but a lot comes out of Charles Seife's story...which is charming and enlightening....After finishing, his readers will feel they've experienced a considerable something." New York Times

Synopsis:

The Babylonians invented it, the Greeks banned it, the Hindus worshiped 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.

Synopsis:

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 thinkers—from Pythagoras to Newton to Heisenberg, from the Kabalists to today's astrophysicists—who 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.

About the Author

Charles Seife, a journalist with Science magazine, has also written for New Scientist, Scientific American, the Economist, Wired UK, and the Sciences, among many other publications. His previous titles include Alpha & Omega and Zero. He received an MS in probability theory and artificial intelligence from Yale.

Table of Contents

Chapter 0: Null and Void
Chapter 1: Nothing Doing: The Origin of Zero
Chapter 2: Nothing Comes of Nothing: The West Rejects Zero
Chapter 3: Nothing Ventured: Zero Goes East
Chapter 4: The Infinite God of Nothing: The Theology of Zero
Chapter 5: Infinite Zeroes and Infidel Mathematicians: Zero and the Scientific Revolution
Chapter 6: Infinity's Twin: The Infinite Nature of Zero
Chapter 7: Absolute Zeroes: The Physics of Zero
Chapter 8: Zero Hour at Ground Zero: Zero at the Edge of Space and Time
Chapter Infinity: Zero's Final Victory: End Time
Appendix A: Animal, Vegetable, or Minister?
Appendix B: The Golden Ratio
Appendix C: The Modern Definition of a Derivative
Appendix D: Cantor Enumerats the Rational Numbers
Appendix E: Make Your Own Wormhole Time Machine

Selected Bibliography
Acknowledgments
Index

What Our Readers Are Saying

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Average customer rating based on 3 comments:

zmama45, April 17, 2008 (view all comments by zmama45)
This book was a wonderful read. I borrowed it from the public library and loved it so much I had to add it to my own library! Charles Seife has a talent for explaining advanced mathematical concepts in such a way that an English major like me can understand them. This book has a natural, logical progression using world historical events to explain major mathematical achievements. The historical figures are presented as real people and Seife makes it even more interesting by presenting some of their more unusual quirks (who knew Pythagoras didn't like beans?). I had no idea zero was so embedded in history, philosophy, and religion. I highly recommend this book!
Was this comment helpful? | Yes | No
(5 of 8 readers found this comment helpful)
Colette, March 4, 2007 (view all comments by Colette)
Fascinating read! It is a great way to learn about the history of mathematics along with bits about civilizationss along the way.
Was this comment helpful? | Yes | No
(6 of 13 readers found this comment helpful)
Elaine, December 24, 2006 (view all comments by Elaine)
This is an interesting read, more history than mathematics. It explains why several ancient peoples including the Egyptians, Babylonians, Greeks, didn't use or need the concept of zero although there was substantial mathematical calculations performed for calendars and celestial measurements. But people used numbers for counting and when you don't have any, there's nothing to count, and used numbers for measuring land and the like, and again, they did fine without zero. He explains the role of Aristotle and later the Catholic Church in the suppression of the concept of zero (and its "relative" - infinity) during the mediaeval period. And how even in some modern mathematics like string theory it must be ignored. This is an interesting book written by a journalist for non-mathematicians.
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(14 of 21 readers found this comment helpful)
View all 3 comments

Product Details

ISBN:
9780140296471
Author:
Seife, Charles
Publisher:
Penguin Books
Location:
New York
Subject:
History
Subject:
Philosophy & Social Aspects
Subject:
Arithmetic
Subject:
Zero (The number)
Subject:
History -- Philosophy.
Subject:
Zero
Subject:
Mathematics -- History.
Copyright:
Edition Description:
Paperback / softback
Series Volume:
106-792
Publication Date:
20000931
Binding:
TRADE PAPER
Grade Level:
from 12
Language:
English
Illustrations:
Y
Pages:
272
Dimensions:
7.94x5.14x.49 in. .39 lbs.
Age Level:
from 18

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Related Subjects

Biography » Literary
Computers and Internet » Nutshell » General
Reference » Science Reference » General
Reference » Science Reference » Philosophy of Science
Science and Mathematics » Featured Titles in Tech » General
Science and Mathematics » Mathematics » Basics
Science and Mathematics » Mathematics » General
Science and Mathematics » Mathematics » History
Science and Mathematics » Mathematics » Popular Surveys and Recreational

Zero: The Biography of a Dangerous Idea Used Trade Paper
0 stars - 0 reviews
$6.95 In Stock
Product details 272 pages Penguin Books - English 9780140296471 Reviews:
"Review" by , "[A] lively and literate first book....[E]ntertaining and enlightening..."
"Review" by , "This is a very light treatment of big ideas....[F]ast-paced and colorful but repetitious, oversimplified, and exaggerated..."
"Review" by , "From the first page to the last, Seife maintains a level of clarity and infectious enthusiasm that is rare in science writing, and practically unknown among those who dare to explain mathematics."
"Review" by , "[Z]ero emerges as a daunting intellectual riddle in this fascinating chronicle....A must read for every armchair physicist."
"Review" by , "A stunning chronicle of the denial, heresy, and grudging acceptance of zero and its companion concepts, infinity and the void."
"Review" by , "Zero may be nothing, but a lot comes out of Charles Seife's story...which is charming and enlightening....After finishing, his readers will feel they've experienced a considerable something."
"Synopsis" by , The Babylonians invented it, the Greeks banned it, the Hindus worshiped 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.
"Synopsis" by ,
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 thinkers—from Pythagoras to Newton to Heisenberg, from the Kabalists to today's astrophysicists—who 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.

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