The author provides a lucid history of the number zero, illustrating its many embodiments as a symbol, a tool, and a concept. To utilize zero, to ignore zero, or even to refuse zero is the challenge set before many civilizations. “The Babylonians invented it, the Greeks banned it, the Hindus worshiped it, and the Christian Church used it to fend off heretics.” When the concept of zero finally arrived, it changed everything. Sefie argues that the power of zero lies in its contradiction as something and nothing combined, and civilizations throughout the ages have struggled with it, alternatively seeking to ban it and embrace it. “The clash 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 a clear window for seeing both the powerful techniques of calculus and the conundrums of modern physics.
One must read Seife’s recount of events to truly appreciate the power of zero.