Issue No.02 - March/April (2000 vol.2)
Covering four millennia and drawing from sources as eclectic as they are insightful, Robert Kaplan, a former Harvard mathematics professor, weaves a lively tale about the concept of zero. It is not so much a history book as it is a primer on zero-its genesis, etymology, representation, use, and ramifications. Artfully blending historiography with ample philosophical musings and literary references, Kaplan shows how various human civilizations grappled with the vexing paradox of having to conceptualize the notion of nothingness. From the Sumerians (whose creation of a positional system lead to a zero marker) to the Mayans (whose God of Death, Zero, had to be appeased by human sacrifice lest time itself would end) to medieval merchant Europe (where, believe it or not, accountants brought about the adoption of the concept of zero), Kaplan does an admirable job in conveying the sense of awe and head-scratching that the notion of nothing elicited. He fits his facts into an analytical framework that dazzles the reader with both its linguistic beauty and the audacity of its sweeping speculations. One of the most tantalizing is his positing of a Great Paradigm shift beginning 500 BC that changed our understanding of Reality.
Daniel Bilar, "To See the World in a Grain of Sand", Computing in Science & Engineering, vol.2, no. 2, pp. 104-105, March/April 2000, doi:10.1109/MCSE.2000.10009