Zero

Seife, Charles. Zero: the Biography of a Dangerous Idea. New York: Viking, 2000.

Reason read: another choice relating to New Year’s resolution. Everyone wants to reset the clock. Zero symbolizes just that.

No other number can do so much damage, so says Charles Seife. He tells you this as he is explaining the Golden Ratio, how Winston Churchill is equal to a vegetable, and how you can make your very own wormhole. Mathematics, religion, philosophy, art, engineering, history: they all connect to zero. Mathematics is a more obvious element, but take religion: Shiva, one of the three gods in the Hindu triumvirate, represents nothing because Shiva’s role is to destroy the universe in order to perpetually recreate it. Seife goes deep to illustrate the importance of the zero and how, historically, it created as well as calmed chaos. Zero is historical and humorous, informative and even a little emotional.

Lines I liked, “To add insult to injury, the ultimate Pythagorean symbol of beauty and rationality, was an irrational number” (p 37) and “But the sand reckoner was destined to meet his fate while reckoning the sand” (p 52).

As an aside, does everyone know the music of Josh Ritter? I couldn’t help but think of his song, Lark, when reading Zero because he mentions “Golden ratio, the shell.”

Author fact: Seife has an M.S. in Mathematics from Yale University. Are you surprised?

Book trivia: Zero is the only book I know that starts with the chapter 0 instead of a preface or introduction.

Nancy said: Pearl lures you in and makes you curious about Zero when she says, “[Seife] offers a mathematical proof that Winston Churchill is equal to a carrot” (p 256). Okay, you got me.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Zero: This Will Mean Nothing To You” (p 256).



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