Finding Zero: A Mathematician’s Odyssey to Uncover the Origins of Numbers

Amir D. Aczel. Palgrave Macmillan, $26 (256p) ISBN 978-1-137-27984-2
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. (Jan.)
Reviewed on: 10/13/2014
Release date: 01/06/2015
Genre: Nonfiction
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Paperback - 256 pages - 978-1-250-08491-0
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