Tag Archives: mathematics

Saved by Zero

Finding Zero

Finding Zero: A Mathematician’s Odyssey to Uncover the Origins of Numbers by Amir D. Aczel (Palgrave, $26.00, 256 pages)

Each of us has a personal passion, maybe one that lingers from childhood, or is triggered by a chance encounter. For Amir Aczel, son of a passenger ship captain, numbers are at the center of his life’s work. As a child he traveled with his family during school breaks on his father’s ships. Navigation and the way ships follow a course fascinated him. Thus began a lifelong fascination with numbers and their origins.

A prolific author of twenty books – including Fermat’s Last Theorem, Aczel is also part-time lecturer in Mathematics at the University of Massachusetts, Boston and a research fellow at the Boston University Center for Philosophy and History of Science. Finding Zero is his own story – an autobiography of sorts. Aczel does not romanticize his quest for the origin of the zero; rather, his is a straightforward telling. Although he narrates the story of his life, it is by no means dry or self-centered.

Aczel’s unusual upbringing included exposure to historic places and above all, the joy of travel. The adults in his life encouraged his curiosity. Aczel became a person whose goal is to see for himself – IRL, in real life. Finding Zero is the journal of his years-long journey through the most ancient parts of human civilization where numbers were first used. The goal was simple, find the first use of the zero. But that’s not as simple as it seems.

Finding Zero rear cover

The reader will appreciate Aczel’s direct and easy-to-read style of writing. A highly-educated man who teaches and researches in well-regarded academic institutions, Aczel does not aggrandize his work, or engage in puffery. He provides a unique perspective on numbers and illustrates how fundamentally math is a basic part of human lives, both in the past and in the present.

Well recommended.

Ruta Arellano

Finding Zero alternate

A review copy was provided by the publisher. This book was released on January 6, 2015.

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A review of The Language God Talks: On Science and Religion by Herman Wouk.

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Wonderful World

Good Vibrations: The Physics of Music by Barry Parker (Johns Hopkins University Press, $27.95, 274 pages)

“Music is sound but it’s a very special type of sound.”

An alternate title for this book might have been Music and Math for Morons, but it is seriously easy to understand.   Yes, there have been many survey books out in the last few years attempting to explain the science of sound.   Most of them have been too high-level for the average reader to understand, including this reader.   Kudos should go to Barry Parker for translating a few not always simple-to-understand concepts into plain English.

It is clear that Parker loves having been born into a world that includes music.   Reading this book is like listening to a teacher who worships his subject matter.   Parker explains rhythm and the major types of music, and gives us an overview of how all of the major instruments – including the human voice – work.   He examines the acoustics of classical concert halls, but he’s no snob when it comes to “new” recording techniques.   He concludes his survey by explaining electronic (computer-generated) recordings and acceptance of the new world of iPods and mp3s.

Bach or Dylan?   It’s all good.

Well recommended.

Joseph Arellano

This book was purchased by the reviewer at Powell’s Books in Portland, Oregon.

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