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From the zeros of the mathematician to the void of the philosophers, from Shakespeare to the empty set, from the ether to the quantum vacuum, from being and nothingness to creatio ex nihilo, there is much ado about nothing at the heart of things. Recent exciting discoveries in astronomy are shown to shed new light on the nature of the vacuum and its dramatic effect upon the explanation of the Universe. This remarkable book ranges over every nook and cranny of nothingness to reveal how the human mind has had to make something of nothing in every field of human enquiry.

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Book Details

ISBN: 9780099288459
ISBN-10: 0099288451
Format: Paperback
(198mm x 129mm x 24mm)
Pages: 400
Imprint: Vintage
Publisher: Vintage Publishing
Publish Date: 5-Jul-2001
Country of Publication: United Kingdom

Other Editions


UK Kirkus Review » Nothing is everything, therefore there is nothing it cannot be. Reading like an insoluble Zen riddle, this is also the premise of Barrow's latest tour-de-force in the world of mathematics. Tackling it more as a detective than the Cambridge research professor he is, he uses common examples and a style of writing found in thrillers to pull the reader through the chinks of reason into the greater reality which may or may not ultimately govern our world. Barrow's journey to uncover the origins of zero and the concept of, quite literally, nothing, starts with the Mayans, the ancient Greeks and the Phoenicians before touching on the Middle Ages on route to our times. In the process he lays open the fact that the development of mathematics is closely woven in faith, culture, organized religion, the concept of God and one's personal belief system. Whether he is busy explaining why Einstein needed to have space filled with either of just how Michelson measured the speed of light, Barrow brims with enthusiasm. It was Galileo who famously said 'Mathematics is the language in which God wrote the universe'. It has taken Barrow, however, to make it truly accessible. (Kirkus UK)

US Kirkus Review » Much ado about, well, nothing..Cambridge mathematician Barrow ("Pi in the Sky", 1992, etc.) has established a reputation as a lucid explicator of difficult numerical and cosmological problems. Here he turns to some of the most difficult of all, at least insofar as lesser minds can grasp: nothingness. His narrative begins, simply enough, with the development of the idea of zero in several mathematical traditions, including the Mayan, Babylonian, and Indian. These independent inventions, which early generations of scholars took to be proof of cultural contacts in antiquity, developed naturally, Barrow maintains, out of positional or place-value numbering systems. "Once a positional system is introduced," he writes, "it is only a matter of time before a zero symbol follows." Zero is altogether too simple for the world because, as the author points out, it cannot encompass the relative degrees of nothingness that more recent physics have postulated; for that, we need "other null mathematical entities" that embrace the concept of a set that has no numbers within it, and here and hereafter Barrow's lightly borne argument takes a somewhat more technical turn, leading into still more difficult concepts of quantum physics, many having to do with the origin and ultimate end of the universe. His depiction of that inevitable end, when everything slides gently into the vacuum that nature supposedly abhors and when new laws of physics override the ones we know, is intriguing - and quite beautiful. Still, readers with little background in mathematics will have their work cut out for them in following the author's analysis - an effort that the author amply repays..Elegant, learned, and far more accessible than much scientific discourse.. (Kirkus Reviews)

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Author Biography - John D. Barrow

John D. Barrow is Professor of Mathematical Sciences and Director of the Millennium Mathematics Project at Cambridge University, Fellow of Clare Hall, Cambridge, a Fellow of the Royal Society, and the current Gresham Professor of Geometry at Gresham College, London. His principal area of scientific research is cosmology, and he is the author of many highly acclaimed books about the nature and significance of modern developments in physics, astronomy, and mathematics, including The Origin of the Universe, The Universe that Discovered Itself; The Book of Nothing, The Constants of Nature, The Infinite Book: a Short Guide to the Boundless, Timeless and Endless, The Artful Universe Expanded, New Theories of Everything, and Cosmic Imagery.