Kaplan never met a literary allusion he didn't like.
this works, as it adds depth and surprising insight into some of the
mathematical concepts he's talking about. At other times, it feels
remarkably scattershot, and adds little to the material. Not every
reference in every classic to nothing or nothingness needs to be
included - pick the ones that actually add something to the discussion,
Most of the time, this is a remarkable work of the
history of mathematics, specifically the concept of zero, and its murky
beginnings. Kaplan does a good job of looking at all the possible
antecedents, the possibilities for when it changed meaning to become the
zero we know and love, or know and hate, or look at and are frankly
baffled by its implications for math. The ways in which zero loves to
screw with our sense of math, both making it work on a fundamental level
and creating problems that can only be solved by philosophically
skirting the edge of a void and trying not to think about it too much.
goes through its history, through the Classical World, to India, to the
Middle East, and back to Europe, and its sketchy and suspect history
through the middle ages, where certain kinds of ciphering were regarded
with as much suspicion as could be mustered.
From there, it's
off to the mathematicians, and how they used and defined this useful
concept, both adjective and noun, and how it is used today.
It's an enjoyable read, even though he does try to come off as too erudite.