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Zero: The Biography of a Dangerous Idea
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 eve...more
ebook, 256 pages
Published
September 1st 2000
by Penguin Books
(first published 2000)
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Community Reviews
(showing
1-30
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3,000)
Mar 29, 2011
Δx Δp ≥ ½ ħ
rated it
4 of 5 stars
·
review of another edition
Shelves:
across-the-universe
Ketika Leonardo da Pisa (kelak dikenal juga sebagai Fibonacci) memperkenalkan angka nol ke Eropa, dia banyak dihujat kaum terpelajar di sana. Alasannya, selain angka tersebut berasal dari negeri kaum kafir, Arab (sebenarnya awal mula sejarah angka nol berasal dari peradaban Hindu, tapi diadaptasi, 'dipermudah', dan 'diperluas' oleh ilmuwan arab Al-Khawarizmi), orang2 Eropa juga merasa terancam oleh kehadiran angka ini. Dengan hadirnya angka nol, bisa dikatakan sistem numeral Romawi yang terdisi...more
I’m not sure if this book quite worked out what it wanted to be. Besides getting to say, ‘and that is the power of zero’, over and over again it wasn’t quite sure where it should pitch itself and the guy writing it was never quite certain how much back knowledge he could rely on his audience actually having. This meant subjects were generally treated too cursory so I was left thinking ‘wait a second, what happened there?’. His discussion of Gauss was very complicated and hard to follow (not near...more
Zero is the story of the number, the time that elapsed before its acceptance, and how the ideas behind it (the void and its opposite, infinity) shook the ideals of religion and science across the globe. The book advances through time chronologically, from the Greek philosophers through Renaissance paintings through Einstein's relativity, ending with speculations on string theory. And yes, all of this is fantasia on the theme of the number zero.
I didn't expect this book to be so math-heavy and so...more
I didn't expect this book to be so math-heavy and so...more
Seife, a science writer, leads us down the rabbit hole we term 'zero'. The mathematical history of the number follows a convoluted path, early on a place-holder in counting systems or a much-feared void forbidden by belief on pain of death. Eventually the path leads to infinity which, like its twin zero, figures the limit of human experience. For Seife this means that nature - described in its native language of mathematics - breaks completely with possible human experience at zero and infinity....more
Apr 13, 2007
Gene
rated it
5 of 5 stars
·
review of another edition
Recommends it for:
tk, william, dwayne
A book about numbers that had me laughing out loud while I was on vacation. My wife could not understand how a book about math could make me laugh so much...
But any book that shows the horrible mistake that not having a Year 0 (i.e., 1 BC and 1 AD are adjancent) would have on history as well as subtraction mistakes, how infinity is really is zero's tricky friend, and make almost understandable the reason why the amazing equation "e ^ (pi * i) = -1" is true is pretty fantastic.
I laughed, I cried....more
But any book that shows the horrible mistake that not having a Year 0 (i.e., 1 BC and 1 AD are adjancent) would have on history as well as subtraction mistakes, how infinity is really is zero's tricky friend, and make almost understandable the reason why the amazing equation "e ^ (pi * i) = -1" is true is pretty fantastic.
I laughed, I cried....more
Feb 01, 2009
David
rated it
4 of 5 stars
·
review of another edition
Shelves:
history-of-science,
non-fiction
This book made me want to actually learn calculus. At least until the brain fever wore off. :)
Wow! A tremendous amount of information is packed between the cover pages of this little hummer. I had no idea zero created such controversy--in religion and math/science. Who knew!
Fascinating facts about how our calendar system is ahead by a year BECAUSE we should have begun with year zero, not one. So, when December 31, 1999 came around, true mathematicians didn't celebrate the millenium until December 31, 2000. The Mayan's had the calendar system figured out. They started with zero, but didn...more
Fascinating facts about how our calendar system is ahead by a year BECAUSE we should have begun with year zero, not one. So, when December 31, 1999 came around, true mathematicians didn't celebrate the millenium until December 31, 2000. The Mayan's had the calendar system figured out. They started with zero, but didn...more
Well, well, well, math. So we meet again. I have done a fantastic job avoiding you for the last ten years, but I knew it couldn't last forever. Still, I wasn't expecting you to come for me in the guise of a pick for our book club. Well played, math. Well. Played.
Basically, I think this is probably a fine book and worthy of more than the "It was okay" rating I am giving. It has lots of pictures and illustrations and appendices, and I am assuming that they mean something. One of them, in theory,...more
Basically, I think this is probably a fine book and worthy of more than the "It was okay" rating I am giving. It has lots of pictures and illustrations and appendices, and I am assuming that they mean something. One of them, in theory,...more
I was in the mood for some math (it had been so long since I read some pop-math literature), and Zero seemed like the perfect tome. Unfortunately, Zero is a little TOO pop-math - it hits on the same "interesting" math and physics tidbits that so many other pop-math and science books do. And while it relates all of its ideas to zero, it's not really about zero.
The first half does talk about the historical context of the concept of zero, but it is mostly about philosophy - how the concepts of zero...more
The first half does talk about the historical context of the concept of zero, but it is mostly about philosophy - how the concepts of zero...more
My grade 11 math teacher gave this to me, and I remember reading it and loving it. Here I am, three years later, returning to Zero for a second read. No longer the gullible high school student (now a gullible university student!), I'm apt to be more critical of Zero. Nevertheless, it stands up to a second reading and both inspires and informs.
Imagining a world without zero is probably difficult for most people. It was especially difficult for me, as a mathematician who grew up learning calculus...more
Imagining a world without zero is probably difficult for most people. It was especially difficult for me, as a mathematician who grew up learning calculus...more
0
+ ( It's a book about math. And I read it. ) - ( It took me nine months. )
= 0
For three weeks after I finished Zero: The Biography of a Dangerous Idea, its central figure looked out ominously at me. In that way, Charles Seife was entirely successful in this piece of pop-nonfiction, weaving together the creation of the "zero", its role in history of mathematical theory, its religious controversies, its philosophical significance and ultimately, its true place at the heart of the universe. It's t...more
+ ( It's a book about math. And I read it. ) - ( It took me nine months. )
= 0
For three weeks after I finished Zero: The Biography of a Dangerous Idea, its central figure looked out ominously at me. In that way, Charles Seife was entirely successful in this piece of pop-nonfiction, weaving together the creation of the "zero", its role in history of mathematical theory, its religious controversies, its philosophical significance and ultimately, its true place at the heart of the universe. It's t...more
Winner of the PEN/Martha Albrand Award honoring debut nonfiction from American authors, this book traces the history of the number zero from its initial appearances in Babylonian and Mayan mathematics to its widespread acceptance during the Renaissance to its role in advanced sciences. In addition to detailing the history of the number’s usage in the mathematics systems of various cultures, the book attempts to tie the concept of zero to more fundamental philosophical struggles that have accompa...more
Dec 20, 2007
TJ
rated it
3 of 5 stars
·
review of another edition
Recommends it for:
People who can tell the difference between numbers and letters.
Mind-blowing mathematical literature. That is, if you don't mind having your brain fellated formulaically. Okay, stupid joke aside; this book meets minimum prose competency for making the story of zero, and mathematics, interesting and engaging. After finishing the book, I actually spent two hours giving myself basic algebra problems to see if I could still solve them. This is a good book to read on a whim, any intentions for it more serious will result in disappointment. (In other words, it's l...more
Another one of the best books that I've read recently. Seife does an excellent job of turning zero into a subject. It is a number, and it is an idea; it is a troublemaker, and it is a problem solver. The biography is very interesting, beginning with history and philosophy and ending with science and the modern age.
I enjoyed the actual writing of the book: clear and easy to follow, slightly humorous at times (in a Stephen Hawking kind of way), and clever. I like the chapter titles (beginning with...more
I enjoyed the actual writing of the book: clear and easy to follow, slightly humorous at times (in a Stephen Hawking kind of way), and clever. I like the chapter titles (beginning with...more
Apr 12, 2007
TK Keanini
rated it
5 of 5 stars
·
review of another edition
Shelves:
math-study,
thinkingtools
I agree that this was a great book. When I was reading it, I thought what a wonderful experience it would be if the walls between Mathmatics, History, Social Science, and English weren't so high, this type of learning could take place in a middle school setting. If I had read this book when i was in middle school, I would have been wagging my tail in math class every day.
Nov 24, 2011
Megan
rated it
2 of 5 stars
·
review of another edition
Recommended to Megan by:
Mark Manchester
An intriguing topic but not a particularly well-told story. The author clearly believes that zero and infinity are somehow dangerous and mystical, and I guess there's some evidence that mathematical philosophers have felt the same way over time. But for the most part, the general vibe of this book was, "Ooh, zero, how *mysterious*," and I wasn't really into that.
This book goes through the story of zero, showing the beginnings and the effects it has had on everyday life throughout the years. It goes through the many issues the concept of zero faced in gaining acceptance in the ancient world because of their way of thinking. From the time when the Babylonians first used it, to modern days where we accept and use our knowledge of zero to answer our questions of the universe.
Charles Seife is a wonderful author who had me laughing out loud to his funny comm...more
Charles Seife is a wonderful author who had me laughing out loud to his funny comm...more
One of the most fascinating books I've read. After reading the first two chapters, I knew I wanted to own it, and I will definitely be buying a copy. I never thought I'd say this about any book having to do with science or math, but this is one of those books that I could turn around and re-read immediately after finishing it. In fact, I might wait a couple days before returning it to the library just so I can read at least the first couple chapters again.
As a side note, toward the end of The A...more
As a side note, toward the end of The A...more
Thanks to the mathematics of zero and infinity, Pascal concluded that one should assume that God exists – from Zero : The Biography of a Dangerous Idea
God’s Debris – by Scott Adams is an interesting novella that tries to in a way put out a belief model where the universe and its constituents are explained as “God’s Debris” – the primordial sea of pre-big bang existence that got sprinkled into living existence as we perceive it today. No one knows or can easily surmise as to what exactly happened...more
Mar 15, 2011
Woodge
rated it
4 of 5 stars
·
review of another edition
Shelves:
mathematics,
non-fiction
Whoa. This book appealed to the science/math geek in me. Less than 200 pages long, I found Zero to be mostly interesting. I read it quickly after all. For the most part, this book was fairly easy to understand but I may have gotten lost in a few places (like string theory and set theory for example -- and I'm pretty sure I understood the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle). For the record, it's the ancient Babylonians who are credited with inventing zero, although the Mayans used it too. Sort of....more
Δεν ήταν καθόλου αυτό που περίμενα, γι' αυτό και δεν το βαθμολογώ -- περίμενα να είναι κυριολεκτικά μια βιογραφία του νούμερου μηδέν, αλλ' αντί αυτού, αμέσως μετά το 1/3 του βιβλίου, αυτό... σταματάει, και το βιβλίο μπαίνει σε καθαρά μαθηματικό mode.
Δεν είμαι ικανός να κρίνω κατά πόσο είναι καλό ή ενδιαφέρον διάβασμα, καθώς οι μαθηματικές μου γνώσεις δεν αρκούν. Όσα κατάφερα να διαβάσω μου φάνηκαν όμορφα και καλά, αλλά περισσότερα από τα μισά μου ήταν ακατανόητα ως μαθηματικός συλλογισμός/πράξει...more
Δεν είμαι ικανός να κρίνω κατά πόσο είναι καλό ή ενδιαφέρον διάβασμα, καθώς οι μαθηματικές μου γνώσεις δεν αρκούν. Όσα κατάφερα να διαβάσω μου φάνηκαν όμορφα και καλά, αλλά περισσότερα από τα μισά μου ήταν ακατανόητα ως μαθηματικός συλλογισμός/πράξει...more
Feb 08, 2010
Valerie
rated it
4 of 5 stars
·
review of another edition
Recommends it for:
Zach, Tori, Debbie, Kalen
Recommended to Valerie by:
Bill Ward
Shelves:
cypresslibrary,
math
My students like the introduction about dividing by zero. I want to use mylar strips to make an ellipse and see the light collect in the other focus. I talk about orbital mechanics a lot in my math classes, and the students often ask me what is in the other focus. For instance the sun is in one focus of an ellipse...why is the other one empty, and while this doesn't exactly answer that question...it illustrates the right triangle connection beautifully. So, project for me. 2 thumbtacks, a piece...more
I enjoyed reading this book. Seife has a nice way of writing and the connections between the history, the math, the arts, the sciences are all wonderful to read and think about.
I think it would have been wonderful to have read in high school or college as it connected so many ideas from various classes. It wasn't a quick or easy read especially toward the end with theories of string theory and such but Seife makes it approachable enough with analogies. It was an interesting thing to read since I...more
I think it would have been wonderful to have read in high school or college as it connected so many ideas from various classes. It wasn't a quick or easy read especially toward the end with theories of string theory and such but Seife makes it approachable enough with analogies. It was an interesting thing to read since I...more
I loved the progress of the idea of zero (and the infinite) from early number systems and philosophy through to string theory and the big bang. The reviewers suggest that the book is accessible to non-mathematicians, but I would think that much of the material is lost to those without some understanding of mathematical ideas. That is the main reason for the score of three.
I always enjoy books that explore the development of ideas. I seem to have a particular interest in the interplay between ph...more
I always enjoy books that explore the development of ideas. I seem to have a particular interest in the interplay between ph...more
Math is something we take for granted in our daily lives, we live by it (all of us do accounting in one form or another). Our daily transactions require it, whether we sell or buy. Math is the ground upon which all of our technology and in fact, all of our framing works. Our modern lifestyle and worldview requires it to be as solid as the ground we build on.
And yet, the concepts of infinity and zero, as innocuous as they seem, incorporated into the limits of what makes math math, led us to parad...more
And yet, the concepts of infinity and zero, as innocuous as they seem, incorporated into the limits of what makes math math, led us to parad...more
Aug 19, 2007
Marc Lacuesta
rated it
3 of 5 stars
·
review of another edition
Recommends it for:
The underground scientist at Area 51 in Independence Day.
Interesting story. I enjoyed reading the history behind the number, but I have to admit that there were times where my eyes were rolling into the back of my head, and I was fighting to get to the end of the chapter (usually the math-intensive parts... not my bag).
It gets into some great ideas that were made possible by the number zero, such as time travel. It even includes a scientific proof (also made possible by zero) that concludes that Winston Churchill was a carrot.
It gets into some great ideas that were made possible by the number zero, such as time travel. It even includes a scientific proof (also made possible by zero) that concludes that Winston Churchill was a carrot.
The science geek in me absolutely loved this book. It was fascinating to see how the idea of zero could have such incredible effects on everything from religion to art to physics. I also thought the author did an excellent job of writing this in a way that is accessible to the non-scientific mind. Definitely glad I picked it up!
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CHARLES SEIFE is a Professor of Journalism at New York University. Formerly a journalist with Science magazine, has also written for New Scientist, Scientific American, The Economist, Science, Wired UK, The Sciences, and numerous other publications. He is the author of Zero: The Biography Of A Dangerous Idea, which won the PEN/Martha Albrand Award for First Nonfiction. He holds an M.S. in mathemat...more
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“Zero is powerful because it is infinity’s twin. They are equal and opposite, yin and
yang. They are equally paradoxical and troubling. The biggest questions in science
and religion are about nothingness and eternity, the void and the infinite, zero and
infinity. The clashes over zero were the battles that shook the foundations of philosophy,
of science, of mathematics, and of religion. Underneath every revolution lay a
zero – and an infinity.”
—
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More quotes…
yang. They are equally paradoxical and troubling. The biggest questions in science
and religion are about nothingness and eternity, the void and the infinite, zero and
infinity. The clashes over zero were the battles that shook the foundations of philosophy,
of science, of mathematics, and of religion. Underneath every revolution lay a
zero – and an infinity.”
May 09, 2014 03:07PM
May 10, 2014 09:51AM