Finding Zero: A Mathematician's Odyssey to Uncover the Origins of Numbers
by Amir D. Aczel
Palgrave Macmillan*, 2015 (($26))
Our modern lives depend on mathematics, which in turn depends on the numerals 0 through 9.** Yet the historical origins of these so-called Hindu-Arabic numerals, as well as the deeper concept of numbers themselves, are a mystery. “How did the idea of a number originate,” asks mathematician and writer Aczel, “and how did it develop and mature through history?” In his quest to find out whence the numbers came, Aczel crosses the globe, visiting India, Thailand, Vietnam and elsewhere. In Cambodia he finds an ancient stone tablet that could be the earliest depiction of 0 yet found.
The full story of the numbers remains to be uncovered, but in weaving together mathematics and history with his personal explorations, Aczel enables readers to experience the joy of the chase.
**Correction (3/4/15): This sentence was edited after posting to fix an error.
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For more recommendations and an interview with author Amir D. Aczel, go to ScientificAmerican.com/jan2015/recommended