Robert Kaplan is a mathematics teacher, and he organizes his cabinet around--nothing. How did we come to have a symbol for zero? Who used it first? Usually the invention (or discovery) of zero is given as occurring in India in about the year 600 CE. Kaplan gives much more shrift to Sumerian, Babylonian, and Greek experiments with abacuses, counting boards, positional notation, and abstract thought. He acknowledges that his approach will be controversial:
Haven't all our dots funneled back to India? Were zero and the variable not truly born here, twin offspring of sunya and what seems the singularly Indian understanding of vacancy as receptive? But like an hour-glass, the funnel opens out again and the dots stream down to ancient Greece.
Kaplan's meditations on zero are not confined to its origin. He muses on the "zero of self," on infinitesimals, on the Mayan zero, and on the nothingness of suicide. Throughout, he shows "a sensuous delight in syllables," a love of words as well as numbers, that makes the book a feast for both halves of the brain. --Mary Ellen Curtin --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
I found the book very well written and entertaining.
That being said, if you're looking for a more scientifically oriented and academic book on the topic, try Seife's "Zero: The Biography of a Dangerous Idea."
I can't recommend this book to any but those who desperately wants to know something of the history of the concept and writing of zero.
I gave two stars because it is the lowest I could go. One star has annotation "I hate it". Robert Kaplan comes out a some kind of demigod who is perching high above and... Read morePublished 3 months ago by Ansh
I've read a lot of Kaplan's writing, mostly in his work for Stratfor, and I always look forward to his dispatches. Read morePublished 6 months ago by Joschka
Greatly enjoyed learning about the history of zero and loved Kaplan's writing style. His enthusiasm for this topic is clear throughout the book and he keeps the topic interesting... Read morePublished on December 2, 2012 by Suzanne
I have read both this book and Seife's, and for all their many minute differences there is one grand similarity: both are so overflowing with useless, flowery asides, which... Read morePublished on May 24, 2012 by Thomas Marley
"The Nothing that is: A Natural History of Zero" is a wonderfully written book, if read with an already basic understanding of the history of zero or even general mathematics, but... Read morePublished on November 29, 2010 by Eric0124
"The Nothing That Is: A Natural History of Zero" by Robert Kaplan is a look at what is perhaps the most significant creations and advances ever made in mathematics. Read morePublished on August 21, 2010 by Dave_42
I wish I could share the writer's sense of excitement regarding the concepts discussed in this book or, barring that, I wish his enthusiasm was infectious. Read morePublished on December 25, 2009 by Matthew da Silva
The most prominent characteristic of this book is that its language is egregiously over the top. The author needs to settle down and not indulge his hyperactive poetic sense so... Read morePublished on December 20, 2009 by Sam Adams
This book takes a subject, "zero," and makes its significance clear. Without the concept of zero, science, as we know, it would be impossible.Published on November 13, 2009 by Milton CowardJr