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Finding Zero: A Mathematician's Odyssey to Uncover the Origins of Numbers
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St. Martin's Publishing Group 2015
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Description

The invention of numerals is perhaps the greatest abstraction the human mind has ever created. Virtually everything in our lives is digital, numerical, or quantified. The story of how and where we got these numerals, which we so depend on, has for thousands of years been shrouded in mystery. Finding Zero is an adventure filled saga of Amir Aczel's lifelong obsession: to find the original sources of our numerals. Aczel has doggedly crisscrossed the ancient world, scouring dusty, moldy texts, cross examining so-called scholars who offered wildly differing sets of facts, and ultimately penetrating deep into a Cambodian jungle to find a definitive proof. Here, he takes the reader along for the ride.
The history begins with the early Babylonian cuneiform numbers, followed by the later Greek and Roman letter numerals. Then Aczel asks the key question: where do the numbers we use today, the so-called Hindu-Arabic numerals, come from? It is this search that leads him to explore uncharted territory, to go on a grand quest into India, Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, and ultimately into the wilds of Cambodia. There he is blown away to find the earliest zero—the keystone of our entire system of numbers—on a crumbling, vine-covered wall of a seventh-century temple adorned with eaten-away erotic sculptures. While on this odyssey, Aczel meets a host of fascinating characters: academics in search of truth, jungle trekkers looking for adventure, surprisingly honest politicians, shameless smugglers, and treacherous archaeological thieves—who finally reveal where our numbers come from.

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Format:
Adobe EPUB eBook, Kindle Book, OverDrive Read
Street Date:
01/06/2015
Language:
English
ISBN:
9781466879102
ASIN:
B00LRWXE4O
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APA Citation (style guide)

Amir D. Aczel. (2015). Finding Zero: A Mathematician's Odyssey to Uncover the Origins of Numbers. St. Martin's Publishing Group.

Chicago / Turabian - Author Date Citation (style guide)

Amir D. Aczel. 2015. Finding Zero: A Mathematician's Odyssey to Uncover the Origins of Numbers. St. Martin's Publishing Group.

Chicago / Turabian - Humanities Citation (style guide)

Amir D. Aczel, Finding Zero: A Mathematician's Odyssey to Uncover the Origins of Numbers. St. Martin's Publishing Group, 2015.

MLA Citation (style guide)

Amir D. Aczel. Finding Zero: A Mathematician's Odyssey to Uncover the Origins of Numbers. St. Martin's Publishing Group, 2015.

Note! Citation formats are based on standards as of July 2022. Citations contain only title, author, edition, publisher, and year published. Citations should be used as a guideline and should be double checked for accuracy.
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title
Finding Zero
fullDescription

The invention of numerals is perhaps the greatest abstraction the human mind has ever created. Virtually everything in our lives is digital, numerical, or quantified. The story of how and where we got these numerals, which we so depend on, has for thousands of years been shrouded in mystery. Finding Zero is an adventure filled saga of Amir Aczel's lifelong obsession: to find the original sources of our numerals. Aczel has doggedly crisscrossed the ancient world, scouring dusty, moldy texts, cross examining so-called scholars who offered wildly differing sets of facts, and ultimately penetrating deep into a Cambodian jungle to find a definitive proof. Here, he takes the reader along for the ride.
The history begins with the early Babylonian cuneiform numbers, followed by the later Greek and Roman letter numerals. Then Aczel asks the key question: where do the numbers we use today, the so-called Hindu-Arabic numerals, come from? It is this search that leads him to explore uncharted territory, to go on a grand quest into India, Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, and ultimately into the wilds of Cambodia. There he is blown away to find the earliest zero—the keystone of our entire system of numbers—on a crumbling, vine-covered wall of a seventh-century temple adorned with eaten-away erotic sculptures. While on this odyssey, Aczel meets a host of fascinating characters: academics in search of truth, jungle trekkers looking for adventure, surprisingly honest politicians, shameless smugglers, and treacherous archaeological thieves—who finally reveal where our numbers come from.

reviews
      • premium: False
      • source: Scientific American
      • content:

        "In his quest to find out whence the numbers came, Aczel crosses the globe, visiting India, Thailand, Vietnam and elsewhere...in weaving together mathematics and history with his personal explorations, Aczel enables readers to experience the joy of the chase."

      • premium: False
      • source: Library Journal
      • content: "In this combination of memoir, travelog, and philosophical musing, Aczel recounts his search for the origin of the numerals...Recommended for anyone who cares about the history of mathematics and science."
      • premium: False
      • source: Booklist (starred review)
      • content: "Readers...accompany Aczel as he tests the limits of coldly cerebral Western mathematical logic against the stunning eroticism of numerical thinking in Hinduism, and weighs the truefalse reasoning of Aristotle against the bewildering four-prong logic of the Buddha...An exciting personal adventure reminding readers of how much nothing really means."
      • premium: False
      • source: Publishers Weekly
      • content: "Prolific mathematics writer Aczel leads a historical adventure that doubles as a surprisingly engaging math lesson...Readers may find themselves questioning Aczel's sanity, as his obsession with zero's origins drives him from one dead end to the next, but it's difficult to avoid being drawn into his quest with these rip-roaring exploits and escapades."
      • premium: True
      • source: Publisher's Weekly
      • content:

        October 13, 2014
        Prolific mathematics writer Aczel (Why Science Does Not Disprove God) leads a historical adventure that doubles as a surprisingly engaging math lesson. Fascinated with numbers and their origins from an early age, it’s no surprise Aczel became a mathematician. A chance encounter with an Aztec artifact reawakened his childhood desire to trace the origins of the numbers we use—especially the placeholder, zero. Most histories taught that our familiar digits “were believed to have originated in India,” but there was no proof of that. Hot on the trail of a possibly mythical ancient artifact, Aczel moves from India to Angkor Wat in modern-day Cambodia, along the Mekong River, and north into Vietnam. The story brims with local color, as well as insights into the history of mathematics and philosophy. Readers may find themselves questioning Aczel’s sanity, as his obsession with zero’s origins drives him from one dead end to the next, but it’s difficult to avoid being drawn into his quest with these rip-roaring exploits and escapades. Photos. Agent: Albert Zuckerman, Writers House.

      • premium: True
      • source: Kirkus
      • content:

        November 1, 2014
        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 the 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 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 inn the side trips through Eastern philosophy, the journey to zero is an adventure worth joining.

        COPYRIGHT(2014) Kirkus Reviews, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

      • premium: True
      • source: Library Journal
      • content:

        December 1, 2014

        Our system of decimal arithmetic notation, using the so-called Arabic numerals: 0,1,2...9, seems so natural and automatic that one feels it has always been that way for all people at all times. Of course, that is not the case. The numerals were invented in the distant past and have mutated into their current form only in the past few hundred years. In this combination of memoir, travelog, and philosophical musing, Aczel (mathematics, Univ. of Massachusetts, Boston; Fermat's Last Theorem) recounts his search for the origin of the numerals. In particular, he focuses on zero, the linchpin that makes the place-value system possible. His travels take him to India and onward to other parts of southeast Asia in an attempt to rediscover the once found, but then lost again, first-recorded use of a symbol for zero in arithmetic. By a combination of perseverance, timely assistance, and good fortune, Aczel finds his goal in Cambodia--evidence literally chiseled in stone--on a partially damaged but still legible stele that barely survived the depredations of the Khmer Rouge. VERDICT Recommended for anyone who cares about the history of mathematics and science.--Harold D. Shane, Mathematics Emeritus, Baruch Coll. Lib., CUNY

        Copyright 2014 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

      • premium: True
      • source: Booklist
      • content:

        Starred review from November 15, 2014
        In ancient Buddhist meditations on the first door of liberation as emptiness, Aczel glimpses the origin of a powerful mathematical concept: zero. But to actually reach that origin, the author must complete an arduous double journey, one intellectual, another geographic. Readers share the exhilarationand frustrationof both journeys. They accompany Aczel as he tests the limits of coldly cerebral Western mathematical logic against the stunning eroticism of numerical thinking in Hinduism, and weighs the true-false reasoning of Aristotle against the bewildering four-prong logic of the Buddha. But the quest for the birthplace of the zeroand its curiously linked antithesis, infinityrequires not just philosophical reflection. It also requires the physical exertion of travel: readers go to Mexico City to scan the Aztec Stone of the Sun for clues as to Mesoamerican numeracy, to Khajuraho to contemplate an ancient numerical matrix surrounded by statues of nude figures engaged in sex, and to Jaipur to inspect numerals inscribed on centuries-old astronomical instruments. But it is finally in a deserted shed in Cambodia that author and readers share the thrill of (re)discovering a long-lost stone clearly engraved with the world's first known zero! An exciting personal adventure reminding readers of how much nothing really means!(Reprinted with permission of Booklist, copyright 2014, American Library Association.)

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The invention of numerals is perhaps the greatest abstraction the human mind has ever created. Virtually everything in our lives is digital, numerical, or quantified. The story of how and where we got these numerals, which we so depend on, has for thousands of years been shrouded in mystery. Finding Zero is an adventure filled saga of Amir Aczel's lifelong obsession: to find the original sources of our numerals. Aczel has doggedly crisscrossed the ancient world, scouring dusty, moldy texts, cross examining so-called scholars who offered wildly differing sets of facts, and ultimately penetrating deep into a Cambodian jungle to find a definitive proof. Here, he takes the reader along for the ride.
The history begins with the early Babylonian cuneiform numbers, followed by the later Greek and Roman letter numerals. Then Aczel asks the key question: where do the numbers we use today, the so-called Hindu-Arabic numerals, come from? It is this search that leads him to...

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