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Zero: The Biography of a Dangerous Ideaby Charles Seife
Synopses & Reviews
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
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.
"[A] lively and literate first book....[E]ntertaining and enlightening..." Publishers Weekly
"This is a very light treatment of big ideas....[F]ast-paced and colorful but repetitious, oversimplified, and exaggerated..." Library Journal
"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
"[Z]ero emerges as a daunting intellectual riddle in this fascinating chronicle....A must read for every armchair physicist." Booklist
"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
"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
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.
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
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