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Zero
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About the Author

Charles Seife is the author of five previous books, including Proofiness and Virtual Unreality. He has written for a wide variety of publications, including The New York Times, Wired, New Scientist, Science, Scientific American, and The Economist. He is a professor of journalism at New York University and lives in New York City.

Reviews

In a lively and literate first book, science journalist Seife takes readers on a historical, mathematical and scientific journey from the infinitesimal to the infinite. With clever devices such as humorously titled and subtitled chapters numbered from zero to infinity, Seife keeps the tone as light as his subject matter is deep. By book's end, no reader will dispute Seife's claim that zero is among the most fertile--and therefore most dangerous--ideas that humanity has devised. Equally powerful and dangerous is its inseparable counterpart, infinity, for both it and zero invoke to many the divine power that created an infinite universe from the void. The power of zero lies in such a contradiction, and civilization has struggled with it, alternatively seeking to ban and to embrace zero and infinity. The clash has led to holy wars and persecutions, philosophical disputes and profound scientific discoveries. In addition to offering fascinating historical perspectives, Seife's prose provides readers who struggled through math and science courses a clear window for seeing both the powerful techniques of calculus and the conundrums of modern physics: general relativity, quantum mechanics and their marriage in string theory. In doing so, Seife, this entertaining and enlightening book reveals one of the roots of humanity's deepest uncertainties and greatest insights. BOMC selection. (Feb.) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.

This is a very light treatment of big ideas. In the first chapters, Seife, a correspondent for New Scientist, skims over the historical and intellectual development of zero, covered more thoughtfully in Robert Kaplan's The Nothing That Is: A Natural History of Zero (LJ 10/1/99). Seife then stresses the connections between zero and infinity and explains calculus, quantum mechanics, relativity, the Big Bang, and string theory to show that they depend on zero and infinity. This is much too much ground to cover when the reader is assumed not to know basic algebra, and the book's central claim becomes very weak, not saying much more than that string theory requires the system of modern mathematics. The prose style reflects Seife's occupation as a science journalist: fast-paced and colorful but repetitious, oversimplified, and exaggerated ("Not only does zero hold the secret to our existence, it will also be responsible for the end of the universe"). Recommended for larger public libraries, while smaller libraries on a budget should acquire Kaplan's book. [BOMC selection.]--Kristine Fowler, Mathematics Lib., Univ. of Minnesota, Minneapolis Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.

"Mathematicians, contrary to popular misconception, are often the most lucid of writers (Bertrand Russell won a Nobel Prize not in mathematics but in literature), and Seife is a welcome example. He writes with an understated charm that takes account of human fear, the mistakes of geniuses and the mind's grandest ambitions." --Atlanta Journal Constitution "Zero emerges as a daunting intellectual riddle in this fascinating chronicle. With remarkable economy, Seife urges his readers to peer through the zero down into the abyss of absolute emptiness and out into the infinite expanse of space. . . . Deftly and surely, Seife recounts the historical debates, then swiftly rolls the zero right up to the present day, where he plunges through its perilous opening down into the voracious maw of a black hole, and then out into the deep freeze of an ever cooling cosmos. A must read for every armchair physicist." --Booklist (starred review) "His narrative . . . shifts smoothly from history and philosophy to science and technology, and his prose displays a gift for making complex ideas clear." --The Dallas Morning News "Seife keeps the tone as light as his subject matter is deep. By book's end, no reader will dispute Seife's claim that zero is among the most fertile--and therefore most dangerous--ideas that humanity has devised. . . . Seife's prose provides readers who struggled through math and science courses a clear window for seeing both the powerful techniques of calculus and the conundrums of modern physics. . . . In doing so . . . this entertaining and enlightening book reveals one of the roots of humanity's deepest uncertainties and greatest insights." --Publishers Weekly (starred review) "Even innumerates . . . can appreciate the intricate web of conceptual connections Seife illuminates." --Boston Globe "The greater part of this book tells a fascinating human story with skill and wit . . . we come to appreciate the surprising depth and richness of 'simple' concepts such as zero and infinity--and their remarkable links to the religion and culture of earlier civilizations and to present-day science." --The Philadelphia Inquirer "Seife . . . recounts his story as an accomplished science journalist, standing on the outside to bring clarity to complex ideas. . . . the crisp explanations are refreshing . . . straightforward and bright." --The New York Times "Seife has a talent for making the most ball-busting of modern theories . . . seem fairly lucid and common sensical." --Salon

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