If readers can avoid getting bogged down in the side trips through Eastern philosophy, the journey to zero is an adventure...

FINDING ZERO

A MATHEMATICIAN'S ODYSSEY TO UNCOVER THE ORIGINS OF NUMBERS

The author of the best-selling Fermat’s Enigma (1996) and other popular books on mathematics and science takes readers through a history of zero and takes himself on a journey through the jungles of Cambodia to find its earliest use.

Aczel (Why Science Does Not Disprove God, 2014, etc.) seems to have had a lifelong love for numbers and a special fascination with zero. As a child, he wanted to devote his life to traveling the world in search of an answer to the origin of numbers. In this book, he lives out part of that childhood dream. A brief discussion of the cumbersome Roman system, which lacked a zero, demonstrates the power of the zero, which makes our number system so efficient. Aczel rejects the theory that it was a European or Arabic invention but rather posits that it developed in eastern Asia. To him, the concepts of both infinity and of nothingness seem embedded in Buddhism, Hinduism and Jainism. To get to zero, he takes readers through a short but sometimes bewildering course in Eastern philosophy that requires close attention. On learning that in the 1930s, a French archaeologist had discovered in Cambodia a stele inscribed with a date that utilized a dot for a zero in the seventh century, Aczel set out to find the stone tablet. Because the Khmer Rouge had destroyed so many of Cambodia’s cultural artifacts, his search was long, complicated and arduous and involves a slew of characters, helpful and otherwise. Aczel is nothing if not persistent, and in the end, he found the carving and photographed it. What happened afterward as he struggled to preserve this earliest known evidence of the use of zero is a story in itself.

If readers can avoid getting bogged down in the side trips through Eastern philosophy, the journey to zero is an adventure worth joining.

Pub Date: Jan. 6, 2015

ISBN: 978-1137279842

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Palgrave Macmillan

Review Posted Online: Oct. 23, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2014

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

A quirky wonder of a book.

WHY FISH DON'T EXIST

A STORY OF LOSS, LOVE, AND THE HIDDEN ORDER OF LIFE

A Peabody Award–winning NPR science reporter chronicles the life of a turn-of-the-century scientist and how her quest led to significant revelations about the meaning of order, chaos, and her own existence.

Miller began doing research on David Starr Jordan (1851-1931) to understand how he had managed to carry on after the 1906 San Francisco earthquake destroyed his work. A taxonomist who is credited with discovering “a full fifth of fish known to man in his day,” Jordan had amassed an unparalleled collection of ichthyological specimens. Gathering up all the fish he could save, Jordan sewed the nameplates that had been on the destroyed jars directly onto the fish. His perseverance intrigued the author, who also discusses the struggles she underwent after her affair with a woman ended a heterosexual relationship. Born into an upstate New York farm family, Jordan attended Cornell and then became an itinerant scholar and field researcher until he landed at Indiana University, where his first ichthyological collection was destroyed by lightning. In between this catastrophe and others involving family members’ deaths, he reconstructed his collection. Later, he was appointed as the founding president of Stanford, where he evolved into a Machiavellian figure who trampled on colleagues and sang the praises of eugenics. Miller concludes that Jordan displayed the characteristics of someone who relied on “positive illusions” to rebound from disaster and that his stand on eugenics came from a belief in “a divine hierarchy from bacteria to humans that point[ed]…toward better.” Considering recent research that negates biological hierarchies, the author then suggests that Jordan’s beloved taxonomic category—fish—does not exist. Part biography, part science report, and part meditation on how the chaos that caused Miller’s existential misery could also bring self-acceptance and a loving wife, this unique book is an ingenious celebration of diversity and the mysterious order that underlies all existence.

A quirky wonder of a book.

Pub Date: April 14, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5011-6027-1

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Jan. 2, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2020

Did you like this book?

An intriguing meditation on the nature of the universe and our attempts to understand it that should appeal to both...

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • Kirkus Reviews'
    Best Books Of 2016

  • New York Times Bestseller

SEVEN BRIEF LESSONS ON PHYSICS

Italian theoretical physicist Rovelli (General Relativity: The Most Beautiful of Theories, 2015, etc.) shares his thoughts on the broader scientific and philosophical implications of the great revolution that has taken place over the past century.

These seven lessons, which first appeared as articles in the Sunday supplement of the Italian newspaper Sole 24 Ore, are addressed to readers with little knowledge of physics. In less than 100 pages, the author, who teaches physics in both France and the United States, cogently covers the great accomplishments of the past and the open questions still baffling physicists today. In the first lesson, he focuses on Einstein's theory of general relativity. He describes Einstein's recognition that gravity "is not diffused through space [but] is that space itself" as "a stroke of pure genius." In the second lesson, Rovelli deals with the puzzling features of quantum physics that challenge our picture of reality. In the remaining sections, the author introduces the constant fluctuations of atoms, the granular nature of space, and more. "It is hardly surprising that there are more things in heaven and earth, dear reader, than have been dreamed of in our philosophy—or in our physics,” he writes. Rovelli also discusses the issues raised in loop quantum gravity, a theory that he co-developed. These issues lead to his extraordinary claim that the passage of time is not fundamental but rather derived from the granular nature of space. The author suggests that there have been two separate pathways throughout human history: mythology and the accumulation of knowledge through observation. He believes that scientists today share the same curiosity about nature exhibited by early man.

An intriguing meditation on the nature of the universe and our attempts to understand it that should appeal to both scientists and general readers.

Pub Date: March 1, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-399-18441-3

Page Count: 96

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: Dec. 8, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2015

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet
more