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Zero: The Biography of a Dangerous Idea
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Zero: The Biography of a Dangerous Idea

3.95  ·  Rating details ·  6,978 Ratings  ·  607 Reviews
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 ...more
Paperback, 248 pages
Published September 2000 by Penguin
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Michael Curtis Yes. Some reviewers quibble over details and rhetoric, but the book covers a lot of math history, offers good explanations, and helped this…moreYes. Some reviewers quibble over details and rhetoric, but the book covers a lot of math history, offers good explanations, and helped this non-mathematician better understand some math concepts.(less)

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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
Oct 18, 2009 rated it it was ok
Shelves: science, maths
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
Apr 12, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: tk, william, dwayne
Shelves: good, science
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.
May 08, 2007 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: mathy people
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
Mar 08, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Everyone
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
TK Keanini
Apr 12, 2007 rated it it was amazing
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.
Feb 01, 2009 rated it really liked it
This book made me want to actually learn calculus. At least until the brain fever wore off. :)

Oct 18, 2011 rated it it was ok
Shelves: book-club, not-for-me
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,
Feb 25, 2009 rated it really liked it
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
Jun 10, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Ben Babcock
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
Oct 22, 2009 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
+ ( 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
Feb 16, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: nonfiction
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!
Jul 11, 2011 rated it it was ok
Recommended to Megan by: Mark Manchester
Shelves: science, math
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.
Menglong Youk
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
Jimmy Ele
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.
Aug 14, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2017
This just makes me want to read all of the science and math books
Jan 09, 2008 rated it it was ok
Shelves: non-fiction
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
Melissa  Jeanette
Sep 15, 2011 rated it it was amazing
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
Eric Rasmussen
Feb 18, 2010 rated it liked it
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
Oct 08, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
ZERO, The Biography of a Dangerous Idea. (2000). Charles Seife. ****.
The author here presents a history of zero, from its earliest discovery and use in the ancient East to its ultimate place in the mathematics of today. It started out as a philosophical and religious concept, likely in India, and slowly spread its way west where it encountered the mathematicians more familiar to us. In its early days, the concept of zero ran into its perception as a concept that went athwart religion. It also be
Sep 08, 2007 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 ...more
Jan 17, 2016 rated it really liked it
A well written and down to earth history of the concept of zero and the increasing complicated ways zero and infinity explain the physical laws of our universe. Rereading this after having taken calculus in college helps me better understand both this book and calculus.
Elizabeth Warwick
Dec 09, 2014 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: People who enjoy math or the origin of concepts
Recommended to Elizabeth by: My mathematics teacher
Shelves: favorites
Absolutely fantastic! If you are a math nerd like me, you will LOVE this book. The history of concepts is so fascinating. Enjoy!!!
Zainab Moazzam
May 17, 2015 rated it it was amazing
The universe begins and ends with zero.
May 02, 2017 added it
Shelves: nonfiction
Lauren Fariss:

This interesting story about the development of the number zero, and the varied reactions to it across different cultures and philosophies, is a great mentor text for students to write their own autobiographies or biographies on the topic of their choosing.

The book explains how the idea of zero came into being, how it was accepted or not accepted across various backgrounds, and how its existence has changed the study of mathematics and science. Following this model, students could
Sep 11, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Very cool book, it covers many interesting facts.
Ashwini Nocaste
Nov 29, 2011 rated it really liked it

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
Tom Quinn
Oct 01, 2017 rated it liked it
I think the whole spirit of this book can be demonstrated with a single quote: "See appendix A for a proof that Winston Churchill was a carrot." It's kind of fun, but mostly educational.

2.5 stars out of 5. A step above textbook-level dryness but a step below pop-science narrative, this one stops being pleasurable to read after about 75 pages when it begins to retread similar ground (how zero was/wasn't explored as a concept in various ancient civilizations). Later the author shifts from cultural
Gisselle Ramos
Jan 23, 2014 rated it really liked it
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
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Goodreads Librari...: Error in description 2 14 Dec 24, 2013 11:59PM  
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  • e: the Story of a Number
  • Number: The Language of Science
  • The Golden Ratio: The Story of Phi, the World's Most Astonishing Number
  • Journey through Genius: The Great Theorems of Mathematics
  • Unknown Quantity: A Real and Imaginary History of Algebra
  • A Tour of the Calculus
  • The Infinite Book: A Short Guide to the Boundless, Timeless and Endless
  • The Joy of Pi
  • Nature's Numbers: The Unreal Reality Of Mathematics
  • The Princeton Companion to Mathematics
  • The Mystery of the Aleph: Mathematics, the Kabbalah, and the Search for Infinity
  • A Brief History of Infinity
  • The Math Gene: How Mathematical Thinking Evolved And Why Numbers Are Like Gossip
  • Innumeracy: Mathematical Illiteracy and Its Consequences
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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
More about Charles Seife...
“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.”
“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.” 3 likes
More quotes…