zeroZERO: The Biography of a Dangerous Idea

by Charles Seife | 248 Pages | Genre: Mathematics/Science | Publisher: Penguin Books| Year: 2000 | My Rating: 10/10

“The Babylonians invented it, the Greeks banned it, the Hindus worshipped it, and the Church used it to fend off heretics. Today, zero lies at the heart of one of the biggest scientific controversies of all time, the quest for the theory of everything. Used unwisely, Zero has the power to destroy logic.”

Charles Seife has presented the complexity of esoteric math and philosophy for popular readership without taking the beauty of numbers throughout his book, Zero. The books starts with the prehistory of numerals, before the number system was discovered. It was only with the advent of numerical notation and arithmetic that zero as a discrete concept became necessary, first as a simple place holder in the Babylonian number system, and later, with the Greeks, as an important astronomical tool even though they didn’t like zero at all.

It was India that first domesticated zero, through the Hindu familiarity with the concepts of infinity and the void. Rigveda states, ‘There was neither non-existence nor existence then; there was neither the realm of space nor the skywhich is beyond. What stirred? Where?’ Zero is between the void and the absolute.

This elegant and enlightening book about the strangest number in the universe is my ‘Read of the Week’.

The Art of the Infinite

books“We commonly think of ourselves as little and lost in the infinite stretches of time and space, so that it comes as a shock when the French poet Baudelaire speaks of ‘cradling our infinite on the finite seas’. Really? Is it ourself, our mind or spirit, that is infinity’s proper home? Or might the infinite be neither out there nor in here but only in language, a pretty conceit of poetry?”   – Robert Kaplan & Ellen Kaplan, The Art of the Infinite: Our Lost Language of Numbers

The Kaplans have brought out the beauty of math through an engaging mix of history, philosophy, science and lyrical prose, equations, geometric projections, exposition and explanation of a unique range of topics from Alcibiades  to Godel to Gauss.

Being a lover of numbers, this delightful book ‘The art of the infinite’ is my ‘Read of the Week’.

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