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Zero: The Biography of a Dangerous Idea
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The Babylonians invented it, the Greeks banned it, the Hindus worshipped it, and the Church used it to fend off heretics. For centuries, the power of zero savored of the demonic; once harnessed, it became the most important tool in mathematics. Zero follows this number from its birth as an Eastern philosophical concept to its struggle for acceptance in Europe and its apoth
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Paperback, 248 pages
Published
February 7th 2000
by Penguin
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Start your review of Zero: The Biography of a Dangerous Idea
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
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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
Zero is quite an undertaking - the author attacks this microhistory with an ambitious goal: to explain how zero came to be, and how it has factored into math and science, and even the dawn of the universe, from the beginning of time. That's a lot to cover. I respect Seife's attempts to make the text more interesting to the layman, but in my opinion the infused excitement is a bit much. Still, there's a ton of information to be found in this book, and it is pretty interesting to see how drastical
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Wow! A tremendous amount of information is packed between the cover pages of this little book. I had no idea zero created such controversy--in religion and math/science.
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't call it t ...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't call it t ...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
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.
It's a fascinating and an affirming read. It's difficult to understand any regiment of mathematics and physics without the number zero. Seife reveals, how it's acceptance took time, overcoming of religious and cultural preconceptions and other serious appraisals and tribulations. Without zero, there be no calculus, algebra, astronomy, quantum physics nor understanding of space, beginning and end of the universe, black holes, vacuum and the list goes on into infinity.
Jun 10, 2014
Jenny
rated it
really liked it
·
review of another edition
Shelves:
library-books-i-want-to-own
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
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
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.
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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
You have to love a book that has a section giving instructions on how to build your own wormhole-time machine. All you need to do is build a wormhole and attach one end of it to something very heavy and attach the other end to something travelling at 90% of the speed of light. It gets easier from there, although you do have to wait forty six years and haul the thing to another planet.
The author takes a seemingly simple topic, then tells us how incredibly complex it really is, and then simplifie ...more
The author takes a seemingly simple topic, then tells us how incredibly complex it really is, and then simplifie ...more
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!
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.
The first chapters about how the idea of zero came into being were quite interesting. A farmer or herdsman doesn't need a number for no carrots or no sheep. The Babylonians created it as a placeholder for their numerical system, as we use it today to distinguish 41 from 401. Contemplating zero leads eventually to its inverse, infinity. Most of the book deals with the uses of zero and infinity in physics, astronomy and other sciences and I didn't find that as interesting.
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
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
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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
Amazing book, especially when it gets to the topic of the significance of zero in mathematics and physics. The only improvement that would have made it better is if there were more known about the origin of zero, in particular the ancient Mayan and ancient Indian perspective on the number. Of course, we know that the information on the Mayan perspective was most likely burned by the Spaniards and as for the Indian perspective, perhaps it lies in an ancient scroll somewhere.
A history of zero and its counterpart the infinite, two ideas that have been regarded as dangerous through the ages but which unlock the secrets to calculus and the universe. Most interesting is Pythagoras’ and Aristotle’s vehement rejections of the idea. The Catholic Church's insistence on Aristotelian thought held Western science and mathematics back for centuries.
4.25/5 stars
"Zero: The Biography of a Dangerous Idea" by Charles Seife is more than just a math book; it's a history of zero and infinity, which the author constantly reminds readers of their resemblances from their birth, the controversial, and the indecisiveness of mathematicians, scientists, philosopher and theologians.
To theologians who unquestionably accepted Aristotlean concepts of nature, God or gods created the integers and fractions that appear in our everyday life from the golden ratio ...more
"Zero: The Biography of a Dangerous Idea" by Charles Seife is more than just a math book; it's a history of zero and infinity, which the author constantly reminds readers of their resemblances from their birth, the controversial, and the indecisiveness of mathematicians, scientists, philosopher and theologians.
To theologians who unquestionably accepted Aristotlean concepts of nature, God or gods created the integers and fractions that appear in our everyday life from the golden ratio ...more
This book is intended for all calculus and physics lovers who want to dive into the origins of every formula and concept they are familiar with. If one is not familiar with any calculus or physics concepts, they should not read this book. An avid calculus or physics student reading this book is sure to recognize everything from lessons in class, but this book ties it all together with mind-boggling explanations and a little humor on the side. For example, the reader will find that the actual mea
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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
First I start by changing my score criteria and start scoring lower, than higher.
This is a good book on the history of Zero. We had 1000s of years without. Look around there is nothing zero, zero was invented for practical reasons. Greeks and many others hated it but mathematically they had a problem with long numbers. Zero is a dangerous idea, got converted to philosophy and find a way to enter also theology. The biography is rather complete with parts that are difficult mathematics but covers ...more
This is a good book on the history of Zero. We had 1000s of years without. Look around there is nothing zero, zero was invented for practical reasons. Greeks and many others hated it but mathematically they had a problem with long numbers. Zero is a dangerous idea, got converted to philosophy and find a way to enter also theology. The biography is rather complete with parts that are difficult mathematics but covers ...more
I read this at the same time I was reading Amir Aczel's Finding Zero: A Mathematician's Odyssey to Uncover the Origins of Numbers, which are similar in subject but really completely different in style. The latter is more of a travelogue/social history of zero (which has its charms), but I think I prefer this one better because it is a little more concrete. The author does at times try to squeeze some philosophical insights out of zero, which I found annoying, but for the most part it's pretty st
...more
Sep 08, 2007
TJ
rated it
liked it
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
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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
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1 trivia question
More quizzes & trivia...
“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.”
—
19 likes
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.”
“The body, the house of the spirit, is under the power of pleasure and pain,” explains a god. “And if a man is ruled by his body then this man can never be free.”
—
5 likes
More quotes…