- Paperback: 384 pages
- Publisher: Vintage (August 13, 2002)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0375726098
- ISBN-13: 978-0375726095
- Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 0.8 x 8 inches
- Shipping Weight: 8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 25 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,112,739 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Book of Nothing: Vacuums, Voids, and the Latest Ideas about the Origins of the Universe Paperback – August 13, 2002
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From our modern perspective, it is easy to deride the wranglings of medieval scholars over the number of angels that could dance of the head of a pin and whether Nature abhors a vacuum. But as John Barrow reveals in this timely and important book, new discoveries in science have shown that these scholars were right to suspect that Nothing has hidden depths.
It is a concept shot through with paradoxes: even innocent-looking phrases like "Nothing is real" flip their meanings as we ponder them, like those illusions that look like a vase one moment, and opposing faces the next. Nothing is fertile, too, as Barrow shows via a stunning trick that allows every number one can think of to be built out of nothing at all.
But his book is about far more than mind games. Arguably, the most important discovery of 20th-century physics is that there is no such thing as nothing: even the tightest vacuum is teeming with subatomic particles popping in and out of existence, according to the dictates of quantum theory. Now, many astronomers suspect that such "vacuum effects" may have triggered the Big Bang itself, filling our universe with matter. Indeed, the very latest observations suggest that vacuum effects will dictate the ultimate fate of the universe.
As an internationally respected cosmologist, Barrow does a fine job of explaining these new discoveries. The result is a book that is required reading for anyone who wants to understand why there will be much ado about Nothing among scientists in the years ahead. --Robert Matthews, Amazon.co.uk --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
From Publishers Weekly
Nothing's conceptual origins were fraught with fear and disbelief, and only three civilizations independently discovered it. How Nothing went from a Babylonian place holder, a Mayan decoration in the empty space where no number fell and an Indian dot signifying all the current aspects of zero, to one of the most essential elements in mathematics, physics and cosmology, is the subject of this enlightening history. Barrow, a Cambridge professor of mathematical sciences and author of Theories of Everything and other books, follows Nothing's evolution in a clear, well-organized narrative. It is specific but neither confusing nor at any point slow, and while its more difficult scientific content will cause it to appeal less to general readers than K.C. Cole's The Hole in the Universe (Forecasts, Jan. 22), there are still plenty of tidbits and trivia that readers will want to share. For, as Barrow demonstrates, pondering the zero can lead to strange discoveries. Two adjacent ships on a calm sea with a brewing swell can be pulled together by a mysterious force similar to that pulling two plates together in a vacuum. Also, we keep time in units of 60 because it was the second base (along with 10) that the Sumerians used in counting. Nothing informs infinite aspects of life and the world at large, and Barrows does an excellent job of bringing its effects to light; plentiful illustrations clarify concepts and bring them into focus. (Apr.)Forecast: While this may appeal less to general readers than Cole's book, science aficionados will greatly enjoy the insights, the detail and the calculations.
Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.--This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
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Top customer reviews
Again, I may not be understanding it properly, but that is my only contention with the book. The rest of it is completely and utterly fascinating.
The first chapters of the book are quite good. Barrow gives us a history lesson on the development of the mathematical concept of zero as well as the historical concept of "nothing" which science will turn into the concept of vacuum. We get to read about the use of zero as a place holder in more complex numbering systems as well as its coming into being as a number. We get to read about the some of the great scientists--Pascal, Newton, Michelson, Einstein--doing experiments and tossing around ideas like the aether. All of this is interesting and well told.
However, about half-way through the wheels start to fall off. Barrow is not nearly as good at explaining the modern concepts of the vacuum as he is about telling of its historical development. Modern physics is again grappling with the question of whether or not a true vacuum can exist. It may be that fluctuations in the vacuum caused the Big Bang and are constantly creating multiple universes, for example. But though Barrow discusses these things, he does not do so in a very coherent manner. Alan Guth, for instance, did a much better job of discussing these same subjects in his book on the inflationary universe theory.
Plus, Barrow is clearly out to toot his own horn a bit in the last couple chapters by mentioning his own contributions to the development of the subject. It just so happens that his contributions don't seem nearly as important as other authors who have written on similar subjects. For those readers interested in the history of zero and the vacuum, I would suggest reading this book through chapter five and then putting it aside.
However, the last third or so of the book is another story. This part often comes across like the author was rushed or something, and on average the reading is simply more tedious and difficult than it needs to be. Rather than being fun and informative, the effort required to extract the few worthwhile morsels of information probably isn't worth it.
Even though I have mixed feelings about it, I would still consider recommending this book to anyone typically interested in mathematics and physics. But for something that covers much of the same basic subject matter in a more enjoyable way, I would probably instead recommend "Zero: The Biography of a Dangerous Idea" by Charles Seife.
If you have already read popular science cosmology books by Kip Thorne, Igor Novikov, Martin Rees or Alan Guth (just a few excellent examples - check my reviews), "The Book of Nothing" will still deliver new and fresh angle through which mysteries of quantum and Universe can be looked at. Therefore I recommend this book to all cosmology readers.
Book is unique as a blend of tasteful dissertations from the realms of theology, philosophy, mathematics and cosmo - science. We will discover Mayan culture, Islamic art and Babylonian concept of zero, meet and learn what they thought or discovered - Greek philosophers, Hindus, Leibniz, Galileo, Pascal, Descartes, Newton/Einstein, Godel, Lemaitre, Plank, Guth, Linde, and Penrose/Hawking.
The main theme (regardless if this was cosmology part of the book or not) is vacuum, and more exactly: it's energy.
Vacuum is not empty due to quantum phenomena and vacuum presents itself as a LAMBDA force, dominating, according to what we observe, the current behaviour of visible Universe.
Especially interesting are author's summaries about famous question: "Why is there something rather than nothing?", and about origin of the Universe and life.
Is it possible that Cosmos always existed and will exist, or has it been created out of NOTHING?
After all, one may construct, very easily, mathematical equation that proves "nothing" theory (find it inside the book).
Can cosmos be self-reproductive or cyclical? John Barrow and his colleague Mariusz Dabrowski discovered answer to the latter.
Figure 8.2 (Mexican hat): horizontal axes (both) can be labeled as Higgs field values.
Figure 8.5: horizontal axis contains label for the scalar field as well.
Figure 7.11 contains symbol "phi" (zero with slash): it represents the golden ratio and equals (1 + square root of 5)/2 = 1.61803...
Sentence on page 248 (paperback edition) should read: "..so in combination they can pin down the Universe by their overlap with far greater certainty (not "uncertainty") than when taken singly." This sentence describes figure 8.10.
Finally I was overwhelmed and amused by many great citations, that shine along the text. Some of them are really funny; some are incredibly deep and surprising.
Here is a sample of the funny one:
"I must say that I find TV very educational. Whenever somebody turns it on, I go to the library and read a book".
For sure, go and read John Barrow's, you will not regret.
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Keeping in mind that the author aspires to explain "complicated" issues...Read more