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The Book of Nothing: Vacuums, Voids, and the Latest Ideas about the Origins of the Universe

3.97  ·  Rating details ·  1,127 ratings  ·  57 reviews
What conceptual blind spot kept the ancient Greeks (unlike the Indians and Maya) from developing a concept of zero? Why did St. Augustine equate nothingness with the Devil? What tortuous means did 17th-century scientists employ in their attempts to create a vacuum? And why do contemporary quantum physicists believe that the void is actually seething with subatomic activity ...more
Paperback, 384 pages
Published August 13th 2002 by Vintage (first published 2000)
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 ·  1,127 ratings  ·  57 reviews

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Start your review of The Book of Nothing: Vacuums, Voids, and the Latest Ideas about the Origins of the Universe
Fascinating! Who would have thought you could find out so many things in a book of nothing!
The book explains, in a compelling and readable way, every angle of the concept of nothing, or rather from whence the difficulties comprehending it arise.
I found it captivating to read and learn how the ancient Greeks' demand for logical consistency of their concepts prevented them to invent the useful mathematical zero symbol and how the theological disputes about the reality of a physical equivalent to z
Jimmy Ele
Oct 17, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: foundation
An amazing array of ideas about Nothing. Bewildering scholarly display of eruditon. From zero to the end of the universe, an astounding odyssey through abstract realms.
Sep 10, 2007 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Stop it, you're killing me.
Quantum physics, if it is real, requires that there be no such thing as nothing. Ergo, nothing is real. And maybe, even, everything is nothing. And John D. Barrow gets 3 stars instead of 4 for assuming I already had six Ph.D's by the time I decided to read this book. (Did anybody read Impossibility: The Limits of Science and the Science of Limits? Yeah. Exactly.) And despite the fact that I didn't understand the majority of what he was saying (though I did feel a wisp of air over my head at time ...more
Aug 09, 2014 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Somewhat muddled presentation about interesting concepts. Convoluted to justify the book's title at times. ...more
Oct 29, 2014 rated it liked it
This is a book about nothing. Literally.
Ami Iida
Nov 21, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: physics
the first half is useless but since chapter 5 it's intriguing.
it's intriguing from the origin of the universe to vacuum.
Dennis Littrell
Apr 17, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: physics
Barrow, John D. Book of Nothing, The: Vacuums, Voids, and the Latest Ideas about the Origins of the Universe (2000)
How nothing became something

"Nothing is Real." --The Beatles, "Strawberry Fields Forever"

As quoted by Professor Barrow on page 8, this is a pun on what the Beatles had in mind, and is in essence what this book is all about. Nothing is real in the sense that it is no longer the nothing that it once was. It is actually "something." On the next page, to further illustrate the point, Ba
Aug 22, 2017 rated it liked it
Well researched and engagingly written, although apparently John Barrow's research did not extend to ensuring that his mental health metaphors were accurate. He refers to the nature of light as being schizophrenic, which is very puzzling because I'm pretty sure light doesn't suffer from delusions or hallucinations. I suspect he actually meant to cite DID - Dissociative Identity Disorder (what used to be known as Multiple Personality Disorder), but I really don't see why mental health analogies a ...more
Dr Matt
Apr 22, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: science
Interesting book. Good writing. The author has a workable grasp of ancient history which allows him to set a broader and more informative basis for his topic than is usually done by most scientists writing books for popular consumption. As usual however, this author is on strongest ground when speaking about science, not religion or philosophy. It is unfortunately part of the maddening hubris of scientists ( of which I am one) that while they would be horrified at the prospect of a self- taught ...more
Mona M.Abd El-Rahman
Jan 05, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: scientific
The Book of Nothing begins with a charming overview of the historical development of the number zero. Although the cipher figure was invented independently among a number of primitive civilizations, it was the Indians who gave it its additive value that enabled the emergence of the decimal system. Curiously, Barrow points out the only civilizations that invented the zero were all highly superstitious practitioners of mysticism. The Indians, for example, also associated the digit with a number of ...more
Szabolcs Sebestyén
Oct 20, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: scientific
Imagine that you have to write a 300-page book about nothing. It's not an easy task, is it? Well, John D. Barrow, an English cosmologist did it. He studies nothing from different angles. He starts with the mathematical nothing: zero. Although nowadays the number zero is almost as natural to us as any other number, it wasn't the case before, and it took a couple of centuries for humanity to get used to it.
Then he turns to the physical nothing: void. Rather than just addressing this question from
Sean Goh
Jan 27, 2018 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science
Really, really dry. Not quite sure how I finished the second half.
Numbers are humanity's greatest shared experience. The words may change, but the symbols stay the same.

Where Western religious traditions sought to flee from nothingness, the use of the dot symbol for zero in meditative exercises showed how a state of non-being was something to be actively sought by Buddhists and Hindus in order to achieve Nirvana: oneness with the cosmos.

The system of attributing a different value to a numeral
Sourav Karmakar
Jun 11, 2020 rated it really liked it
I am giving it exactly the numbers of stars it deserves mathematically. The book through it's ten chapters discusses topics like number system, discovery of zero, arguments about presence of ether, Einstein's famous equations,the cosmological constant, the inflation of universe induced by fluctuations in vaccum state, cosmic strings,the fate of the universe. The first eight chapters are really enjoyable, but the last two chapters are disappointing. The explanations are not clear or enough. In a ...more
Paige McLoughlin
A book nothingness, zero, the vacuum, and the void. The concept of nothing has a rich long tradition in intellectual history and boggles the mind to contemplate like its twin infinity. Both are hard to get our heads around but they are boundaries of our picture of the mundane world. I have had experiences around both that cause weird states of mind going back to age six or seven when I tried as a child to think about them (the crazy started early with me) I remember as a seven-year-old my room ...more
Michelle Leah Forbes
Nov 14, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: sciences
If you're a nerd like me, you'll love this book for two different reasons: one, it's an in-depth examination of the historical concept of Nothing and its use in modern physics and mathematics; and two, Dr. Barrow occasionally enjoys quoting word play from other authors. One of my favorite ditties is included in it, from Hughes Mearns:
"As I was going up the stair,
I met a man who wasn't there.
He wasn't there again today,
I wish, I wish he'd stay away."

Or the occasional deliberate use of a quote ou
Michał Kostrzewa
Jan 07, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
It gets way too packed towards the end when the book is about quantum stuff. I'm interested in this stuff (read some books) but I still found it hard to grasp - I can't imagine my mom, who doesn't know this stuff at all, to know what's going on.

The book is definitely for someone who already knows some of this stuff at least on layman level.
Liz Wynder
This book had interesting parts, but there were quite a few very dense parts that were hard work to follow.

If you already know a fair bit of astrophysics then maybe you’d find the later chapters interesting. I was lost.
John Jose
Oct 22, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
Incredible research and detail. Rating it three stars because it's not an easy read. Could have been simpler. ...more
Feb 28, 2018 rated it liked it
* Nothing is more interesting than a lot of other things. So nothing must be something. But if nothing is something then it's not nothing.

* Starts out easy but gets very heavy quickly.
Nov 24, 2018 rated it it was ok
Packed with information - not all of it riveting and too much of it beyond my ken.
Nov 03, 2015 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
John D Barrow has essentially written a book in two parts, the first is a historical and (to a lesser extent) philosophical examination on the concept of nothing, and the second part is a cosmological examination of the cosmic vacuum and the inflationary universe.
The title and the nature of the book cannot help but render an important question to the reader, namely, why? Why read this book? Indeed one could say that the title of the book is an almost suicidal approach to it's marketability, perh
The latter part would be hard to get through without my Physics and Astronomy background. A commendable effort to make science digestible, and the author did try.
Bob Anderson
This book is about the concept of nothing: it begins with the mathematical nothing, discussing the idea of zero and the various style of number systems including the familiar base-ten place-value system we use. It has a brief and lively discussion of the varieties of zeros (or identities under different operators) one may find in mathematics, and then on the philosophical and religious treatment of the idea of non-existence. The interesting part of the book concludes with physical nothingness, d ...more
Mar 28, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Nothing is a fascinating concept to us. The void, 0, or the vacuum were and are hotly debated and discussed topics in the study of mathematics and science. However, nothing's seemingly humble origins hold an amazing story. From the Indian mathematicians to the Grecian philosophers, many in the ancient world tried to define zero; however, the story goes deeper than that. In The Book of Nothing, by Professor John D. Barrow, Barrow explores the real story behind zero. He delves through ancient civi ...more
Feb 25, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Zero is one of the simplest mathematical concepts in the world to us today: it just represents nothing, null, emptiness. So what prevented ancient Greek mathematicians from coming up with zero and Europe from accepting the idea of zero for so long? And how did the ancients think of the vacuum - purely empty space? In John D. Barrow's science book, the Book of Nothing, he delves into these questions and explores the history of zero in ancient civilizations, explains its effects in societies, and ...more
Aaron Vivar
Jul 05, 2011 rated it it was ok
Oh my god, this book was so weird. It in fact is a book about nothing! In every few sentences the author mentioned "nothing" as if it were a human being that I ended up getting confused. John D. Barrow talked about his whole theory that nothing is actually something, but since nobody can see it or prove it it's considered nothing. That's basically said with three hundred eighty-something pages, scientific vocabulary, mayan theory, math, philosophy, physics (which confused the hell out of me), an ...more
The Book of Nothing, is, you guessed it, about...nothing.

In a (quasi-)scientific way.

As a fervid fan of Ende's Neverending Story, I used to obsess about nothing when I was a kid. So I couldn't resist buying (and reading) this book.

Interesting and enjoyable (though not as much as my childish obsessions), if you are interested in nothing. ;-) (just be glad I didn't make more nothing-jokes. It was hard to resist nothing.)

Maybe I'm an eternal teenager because I kept saying:

Nothing, Lebowski! Nothing!

While reading this generally quite excellent popular science book. I don't read many book-length treatments of science, and this made me wonder why. Barrow easily explains why nothing and zero are different, and why the problem of nothing is so vexing when it comes to the physical universe. He doesn't present too many of his own ideas, but I suppose that's the point of popular science.
Greg Talbot
Oct 08, 2014 rated it really liked it
It took an understanding of quantium physics to truly understand the bodies of the universe and the forces that connect everything. So it is that understanding "zero" or a 0 placeholder is a way to understand and expand on math's rich language.

One subject matter I became very interested in was about vaccuums, and just how religious and scientific understandings of them shaped our culture and languaage.

Solid work, accessible and wildly entertaining
Feb 17, 2012 rated it liked it
Shelves: abandoned
well...some books are rather to say fact book and i am amazed reading this new book from John.D.Barrrow. the author takes us through a journey of old facts that we feel amazed to know of some real cool data's and their existence and all linked to one particular entity "Nothingness".

Its a story with really no fiction added to it
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John D. Barrow was a professor of mathematical sciences and director of the Millennium Mathematics Project at Cambridge University and a Fellow of the Royal Society.

He was awarded the 2006 Templeton Prize for "Progress Toward Research or Discoveries about Spiritual Realities" for his "writings about the relationship between life and the universe, and the nature of human understanding [which] have

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“Turing attended Wittgenstein's lectures on the philosophy of mathematics in Cambridge in 1939 and disagreed strongly with a line of argument that Wittgenstein was pursuing which wanted to allow contradictions to exist in mathematical systems. Wittgenstein argues that he can see why people don't like contradictions outside of mathematics but cannot see what harm they do inside mathematics. Turing is exasperated and points out that such contradictions inside mathematics will lead to disasters outside mathematics: bridges will fall down. Only if there are no applications will the consequences of contradictions be innocuous. Turing eventually gave up attending these lectures. His despair is understandable. The inclusion of just one contradiction (like 0 = 1) in an axiomatic system allows any statement about the objects in the system to be proved true (and also proved false). When Bertrand Russel pointed this out in a lecture he was once challenged by a heckler demanding that he show how the questioner could be proved to be the Pope if 2 + 2 = 5. Russel replied immediately that 'if twice 2 is 5, then 4 is 5, subtract 3; then 1 = 2. But you and the Pope are 2; therefore you and the Pope are 1'! A contradictory statement is the ultimate Trojan horse.” 9 likes
“I love cosmology: there’s something uplifting about viewing the entire universe as a single object with a certain shape. What entity, short of God, could be nobler or worthier of man’s attention than the cosmos itself? Forget about interest rates, forget about war and murder, let’s talk about space.” Rudy Rucker21” 2 likes
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