Book: The Book of Nothing

It's hard to depict 'nothing'.
It’s hard to depict ‘nothing’ on a book cover.

Journey from Elementary Maths to Advanced Physics.
380 pages, ★★★★

The Book of Nothing begins with ancient civilisations’ interpretations of numbers. All cultures experimented with different number bases, almost all of which were based on body parts. Evidence of number base 20 (fingers on two hands), 10 (fingers on one hand), 8 (gaps between fingers) and 2 (hands) have been found worldwide. We now use base 10.

“Zero” is discussed for a hundred pages. Zero emerged when the Arabs, the Indians and the Greeks all a need to distinguish hundreds, tens and unit digits with clarity. Leaving spaces is ambiguous (for instance, 7 2 and 7  2 are difficult to distinguish), so these civilisations started using a dot to signify the absence of a digit: 7..2.

The Arabic “dot” became “٠”, while the Indian dot started with a resemblance to the lower-case alpha: “∝”. Both of these later evolved into the “0” we use today.

In the Elizabethan era, the zero (and indeed anything else that implied zero, nothing, nil, nada, etc) connoted female sexual undertones. Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing, first printed in 1600, may have been interpreted as a sexual pun—as would this book.

The Book of Nothing then steps slowly, but deeply, into physics. We learn why water can only be pumped to a height of 18 cubits. We learn about casimir plates, Curie temperatures, about the amazing properties of α & e (page 231), Michaelson’s experiment, and the mind-boggling properties of seemingly empty space.

Best of all, this book is full of human history and interesting stories. It’s serious and informative yet easy to read. I recommend The Book of Nothing for high-school students and prospective university applicants. ★★★★

 

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