BooksOfTheMoon

Zero: The Biography of a Dangerous Idea

By Charles Seife

Rating: 4 stars

This was a book about the history of zero and infinity. From its invention in Babylon, through its suppression in Greece and in the west during the Middle Ages to its flourishing in India and the Middle East and reintroduction in Europe in the Renaissance. Seife covers the history of the zero with an admirable narrative, showing how it is intimately tied with infinity before going on to discuss the most important occurrences of zero in maths (including calculus) and physics (the big bang, zero point energy, black holes).

Most of the book is very accessible to the general reader, particularly the history sections, but during the bits in the middle that were directly related to maths, I was very thankful for my own A-Level maths background, which helped me follow the equations and the calculus (even if some of it did involve dusting down some very old memories 🙂 ).

It was a very interesting read about something that most of us don’t think about very much at all. The history of zero in particular was very interesting, especially fear that the Greeks had of it, removing it from their universe entirely. Seife shows how they constructed their world around geometry and how the fear of zero follows on from that.

Interesting and very enjoyable. Just dust up on your algebra and calculus before you get to the middle chapters.

Book details

ISBN: 9780140296471
Publisher: Penguin
Year of publication: 2000

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