Saturday, January 10, 2015

Considering Zero

•Charles Seife: Zero: the biography of a dangerous idea..
New York: The Penguin Group, 2000. 247 pages.
ISBN 978-0140-29647-1.
Portland, January 10, 2015—
A LITTLE GLIB, this book, and concept-driven, linking such diverse topics as cosmology, calculus, and single-point perspective through a common dependence on the concept of zero. It's an attractive idea, but not pursued very consistently. The "danger" of the title, for example — that the idea of void (and its opposite, infinity) was just too weird and threatening to be accepted in many cultures — promises to offer insights into the history of ideas and knowledge, but the author is content to state his case and rarely enlarges on its historical significance. He's particularly sketchy on the ancient Greeks, but does write interestingly on Renaissance and early modern thinkers on the subject. The style is brisk, sometimes gee-whiz, and often repetitive, by no means up to such writers as George Gamow and James Gleick. There is an extensive bibliography and the book seems well indexed.

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