Customer Reviews for

Zero: The Biography of a Dangerous Idea

Average Rating 4
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Most Helpful Favorable Review

1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

Fascinating

Zero was a fascinating journey. I read it in two sittings. I'm a high school senior in a college-level intro calculus course though, and I wonder how the less-initiated reader finds Zero. I would caution those who lack a patience for higher order mathematics,...
Zero was a fascinating journey. I read it in two sittings. I'm a high school senior in a college-level intro calculus course though, and I wonder how the less-initiated reader finds Zero. I would caution those who lack a patience for higher order mathematics, or a familiarity with physics and calculus to think twice before delving into Zero. You will undoubtedly enjoy it, but I wonder if you will understand the intricacies of the latter half of the book.

posted by Anonymous on November 25, 2005

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Most Helpful Critical Review

1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

Choose another Zero book

The philosophy and history of the concept of "nothing" is an interesting one with a lot of repercussions. I can't really say that Seife did it justice, though. The writing is not as focused as it could be, some sections getting repetitive and his analogies don't quite w...
The philosophy and history of the concept of "nothing" is an interesting one with a lot of repercussions. I can't really say that Seife did it justice, though. The writing is not as focused as it could be, some sections getting repetitive and his analogies don't quite work. And, quite frankly, I don't know why anyone would spend time describing Pascal's Wager without pointing out how logically inconsistent and culturally biased it is. In short, not a bad book, just not really recommended. Especially since others have tackled the subject.

posted by Victor3000 on March 20, 2011

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  • Posted March 20, 2011

    Choose another Zero book

    The philosophy and history of the concept of "nothing" is an interesting one with a lot of repercussions. I can't really say that Seife did it justice, though. The writing is not as focused as it could be, some sections getting repetitive and his analogies don't quite work. And, quite frankly, I don't know why anyone would spend time describing Pascal's Wager without pointing out how logically inconsistent and culturally biased it is. In short, not a bad book, just not really recommended. Especially since others have tackled the subject.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 14, 2010

    Fantastic

    Fantastic book, though most definitely written by a mathematician. Very interesting and concise. Now to find a good biography of Pythagoras..

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 25, 2005

    Fascinating

    Zero was a fascinating journey. I read it in two sittings. I'm a high school senior in a college-level intro calculus course though, and I wonder how the less-initiated reader finds Zero. I would caution those who lack a patience for higher order mathematics, or a familiarity with physics and calculus to think twice before delving into Zero. You will undoubtedly enjoy it, but I wonder if you will understand the intricacies of the latter half of the book.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted November 11, 2005

    Not For Nothing...

    Who would have thought that a book about zero would be so interesting? But it is - and then some. Easily readable, even for mathophobes - and lots of fun.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 28, 2014

    I like this book

    :-)

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 4, 2014

    Fantasic book

    We read this book in trig class through the year. Was fun to find out the history of such a simple yet complex idea. I highly recomend this book if you love learning.

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  • Posted June 2, 2011

    Great book, not just for math-lovers

    Fans of science, history, math, or philosophy will dig this. Hell, even if you hate any of those subjects, read this book!

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 31, 2006

    A Must Read For Anyone Needing Perspective

    It's been a while since I've partaken in any mathematics or physics discussions but this book helped me understand what I didn't even realize I didn't understand. Reading this book enlightened my understanding of physics and calculus. I definitely recommend this book to anyone. The author ensures that it's easy enough to read for just about anyone with a slightly above average mathematical reasoning level. Although I must agree with a previous reviewer and state that the latter half of the book is much more conceptual.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 16, 2005

    wonder how much info is right ?

    Wish the author had done proper research coz it is definetely a dangerous idea when he writes that the number Zero was invented by the Babylonians. If he had done a proper research as most mathematicians could have told him that the concept of Zero was invented by Aryabhatt an indian mathematician who devised the number system. He used the word 'kha' for position and it would be used later as the name for zero. There is evidence that a dot had been used in earlier Indian manuscripts to denote an empty place in positional notation. Well, I definitely am thinking twice about the authenticity of the rest of the book.

    0 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 19, 2004

    From a math-a-phobic!

    Who would think that a dry subject on 'zero' could be so interesting? A wonderful, interesting journey through history on how zero came into our everyday mathematics. Recommend to everyone, even mathaphobics.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 27, 2004

    zero flaws....i think?

    This astounding display of excellence is, for lack of a better term, marvelous. Seife dives deep into the biography of a common yet engrossly powerful number. Upon reading, one can see that even an art so precise as mathamatics, it wobbles on an unsteady leg that might not even exist at all. A truly ingenious book.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 18, 2003

    Truly impressive view at a number.

    This was a great book. It starts out with basic concepts and history and develops it into a knowledge rich book. Not only does it have something to show the reader but it leaves the reader with a lasting impression about the deveopment, growth, and life of zero.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 29, 2002

    Wonderful Book

    Zero: The Biography of a Dangerous Idea is a classic. I recommend anyone seeking to understand the history of mathematics in a brief but enjoyable way, should read this book. This book is very short, only having ten chapters that detail the history of mathematics and how zero and infinity have destroyed the logic of science. From chapter zero to infinity this book is a must read!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 28, 2002

    Uneven and unfocused

    This book had a lot of potential, but falls woefully short. When the author stays within his own field of mathematics, the book is refreshingly informative. His sections, on the limit, integral calculus, L' Hopital's rule, etc. are worth taking a look at, certainly a good review for those of us who may've taken a course or two in calculus a while back but can hardly recognise Leibniz' differential today. But the book is very disappointing whenever it veers outside of mathematical teaching. The author should have simply left out the book's last 1/3, as the chapters on astronomy, cosmology, physics, and in general matters application-related, are poorly written and packed with distracting errors. And his discussion of history starts off interesting but then dissolves in an overflow of bloated writing and convoluted presntations. His sections on the ancient cultures seemed trite and off the mark, and he veers off on too many unrelated tangents as the book moves along.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 12, 2002

    Worth a skimming, if even that

    This book is utterly a labour to read. It is informative in some parts where it details the history of mathematics, but overall is so full of confusing and distended prose that it does not justify the effort put in. And the latter half of the book, with cosmological thought and physical theory, is awful. Worth perhaps skimming the sections on the curve-tangent problem and the history of the number from the middle ages onward, otherwise does not merit the effort.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 6, 2001

    A gem

    A truly enjoyable book. It's amazing how elegant the book is despite how dense it is with philosophical, historical, and mathematical facts. Highly recommended.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 22, 2001

    Atrocious

    Seife's book is overwrought, heavy on style and woefully weak (even inaccurate) on substance. His writing style is hyperbolic and filled with inane puns about the number zero (as can be seen in the chapter names). He goes way overboard in estimating the Greeks' attitude toward the number zero; as quite a bit of scholarship has shown, the number was not some kind of bete noire to the Greeks, rather, they simply found no need to incorporate it as a placeholder because of their geometric mathematical focus and the counting systems they used in commerce. Seife gets confused about the history of Aristotelianism in Europe-- he states that it basically kept Europe in the Dark Ages, while the Arab civilization (which imparted the numeric system containing zero to Europe in the late Middle Ages) rejected Aristotelian thought. In fact, as any middle school history student could point out, Europe was in the Dark Ages in large part because it almost totally forgot Aristotle's work. Though clearly many of Aristotle's ideas would turn out to be incorrect, his observational and scientific approach to things was crucial to eventually beginning the Age of Reason. In fact, one of the Arabs' greatest contributions to the history of thought was that they *translated* Aristotle into Arabic and studied it thoroughly, then transmitted this new learning and way of thought into Europe in about the 1200s. Seife mixes this up entirely. His descriptions of Newtonian and Leibnizian calculus are not bad, but when he gets into the cosmology and the physics he's way out of his league. One of the most fascinating things about 20th century science is the way in which Einstein's work and quantum physics have both totally revised the notion of the vacuum, filling it with activity of many stripes-- but Seife glosses this over in a few poorly written pages, and misses the whole point of what modern work has shown about the field. This is not the book to read about this topic.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 10, 2001

    Enchanting Storytelling, Compelling Concepts

    Seifes style has cool class, as he presents captivatingly the origins, behaviors, and the dangers of integrating the concept of zero into mathematics, philosophy and existential concepts within our own historical universe. Who knew math was so compelling, but once you start this book, its sure to hijack you along trails of intrigue. Touches of irreverent humor and masterful storytelling spice this book chock full of ancient cultural information, explanations of different counting notations, calendars, and philosophy. An exhilarating view of the many implications and paradoxes inherent in the controversial idea of zero. Seife, using captivating uniqueness of authorial voice, weaves stories, concepts and humorous anecdotes into a fascinating journey that travels a wonderful path watching tableaus of many ancient cultures beliefs and stakes in the zero controversies. Seifes' presentation enmeshes concepts of mathematical behaviors of zero in culture, philosophy and political stakes with a gooseflesh chill of fun along the journey. Covering ground from Egypt to Sumeria to Greece, keeping the freshness of drama and meaning present in every paragraph, this book is a work of wonder and amazement, entertaining and compelling. A meaningful bonus, the practical illustrations of the mathematical challenges posed by zero are refreshingly accessible even to math-phobics. ....I highly recommend the audio version of this book, as well, to fully enjoy Seife's storytelling.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 25, 2001

    Recommended reading!

    A truly excellent and entertaining account of the history of this invaluable concept!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 27, 2001

    A great book with a fresh persepective

    When I first saw this book in my book club I was instantly curious. When I got the book a few weeks later in the mail I immediately opened the book and 3 days later I had completely finished the book. I was overwhelmed by the long struggle zero had to gain acceptance. Who would have figured that zero was just naturally accepted like all the other numbers were. The author describes the most complicated mathmatical issues in the easiest way possible. This book made me think like most books never will. It is the journey of human beings intelectual progress. It is stunning and I belive ever college kid should be forced to read this.

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