This biography of numbers moves from early human counting through the mathematical notion of not just infinity, but an infinity of infinities.

Here's s...moreThis biography of numbers moves from early human counting through the mathematical notion of not just infinity, but an infinity of infinities.

Here's some of the cool stuff I learned:

Negative numbers arose from the accounting needs of Bronze age finance. The author never explained why the color red was chosen to bear the hateful association of being in the hole.

Greek mystic math teachers like Pythagoras were peeved to find that circles and proportional beauty were not based in whole number ratios, but in fact were strings of digits that ran on forever without repetition. From the Greek we call these numbers irrational. (Pythagoras abjured beans and told his disciples to do the same, though, so maybe that's like the pot calling the kettle black.)

The conservation law that maintains consistency in mathematical logic necessitated the envisioning of imaginary numbers, and so i, the square root of negative 1, was born. Or at least I think that's what the book said. This imaginary number business still doesn't make much sense.

Zero is the presence of absence; emptiness as form and form as emptiness. Zero as a concept derived from Indian Buddhist and Hindu philosophy, made its way into the Middle East and from thence to the Western world where it became a placeholder and then a number in its own right.

And where would zero be without the equally expansive concept of infinity, or rather, infinities, an infinite variety of which are Rudy Rucker's playthings in books read elsewhere?

The prose is dry, but there are lots of cool pictures. Consider this book bathroom reading for dorks. (less)