Robert Kaplan

The nothing that is

Although we use the number zero all of the time, and understand that it represents the concept of nothing, it has not always been that way. In this book Kaplan shows us how this idea came gradually, and sometimes met a lot of resistance. Starting with the Babylonians we see how it spread to Greece and to India, and how a placeholder notation eventually took root in western civilisation. The second half of the book moves away from history towards more literary and philosophical ideas of nothingness including mathematical questions such as the nature of infinitesimals.

Kaplan writes in a rather 'literary' style, which may be off-putting to those of you used to normal scientific writing. I found it rather irritating in the historical parts of the book, particularly that describing the development of mathematics in India. It was better for the description of Mayan mathematics, and the battle between Arabic and Roman numerals but I felt that the style was best suited to the later, philosophical part of the book. Overall, I would say that this is not really a book for those seeking specific information, but it is a interesting read, and introduces you to a wide variety of ideas.

Amazon.com info
Paperback 256 pages  
ISBN: 0140279431
Salesrank: 4708548
Weight:0.38 lbs
Published: 2000 Penguin Books Ltd
Marketplace:New from $56.01:Used from $1.75
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Amazon.co.uk info
Paperback 256 pages  
ISBN: 0140279431
Salesrank: 924020
Weight:0.38 lbs
Published: 2000 Penguin Books Ltd
Marketplace:New from £90.43:Used from £0.01
Buy from Amazon.co.uk
Amazon.ca info
Paperback 240 pages  
ISBN: 0140279431
Salesrank: 967107
Weight:0.38 lbs
Published: 2000 Penguin UK
Marketplace:New from CDN$ 110.65:Used from CDN$ 2.51
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Product Description
In this text, Robert Kaplan explores the peculiar course that the notion of "nothing" or its mathematical representative, zero, has taken throughout history. Forced into our awareness 4000 years ago by the need to count ever larger multitudes, zero drifted in and out of focus, disappeared for centuries, then swept from the East into the medieval world, with fears and superstitions crouched around it. Did we discover or invent it? Was it the devil's work? Is it a number or a fiction? Its users came to see that it held immense power to unriddle the universe, leading to profound insights into the mind and the world. And now new layers are coming to light: our computers speak only in zeros and ones, and, for a cosmologist, zero alone can be made to generate everything.