Stuntman And Lover Of Cheese

by Dan Bostonweeks

Book: Zero: The Biography of a Dangerous Idea

The daily public transit commute gives me a lot of time to read these days. I haven’t posted about every book I’ve read and some I’m going to wait and do a author-based post. Occasionally I run out of books in my stack (although I just alleviated that problem for hopefully a few months) and my roommate Keith is kind enough to throw a book my way that he isn’t yet reading. The last one he did that for was the book Zero: The Biography of a Dangerous Idea by Charles Seife. At first I thought it might be an odd book considering the subject matter, but I shouldn’t have feared as Seife is quite capable of guiding the reader and filling in the holes in knowledge they have. While it is hard for a modern person to conceive of a world without zero the history and reasoning that it didn’t exist in the ancient world are clearly laid out. From ancient times through the invention and adoption of zero Seife explains why it has been both a benefit and a detriment to cultures, science, and mathematics. From the Greeks banning zero to how the numeral systems of the world developed (ancient and modern) and how that affected the perceptions of the users (for example, in Greek and Roman counting systems there was no notion of zero because they always compounded the numbers from left to right). There are many subjects in Zero: The Biography of a Dangerous Idea and each and every one of them is clearly explained and linked to zero. From basic math, through algebra and calculus, and into physics zero is explained, de-mystified, and accounted for. Zero was a quick read (thankfully it’s not too thick and dry) and very enjoyable. I would highly recommend it for anyone, especially my nerd friends.