The Nothing That Is. Robert Kaplan

The Nothing That Is: A Natural History of Zero.
Robert Kaplan.
Oxford: 1999.

An interesting topic that intrigued me when I first read about this book in a review. The first half of the book is rather interesting, as Kaplan follows the development of the idea of zero through the 16th-17th centuries. Zero as a number was never really accepted until this time; before then, it was either non-existent, a place-header only, or a suspicious number used by mathmeticians and magicians.

Throughout this half of the book, the author’s innumerable tangents, asides, and references — literary, philosophical, historical, scientific, religious, or otherwise — are distracting and annoying, but we still follow something of a course.

Once we reach the modern era, however, the book collapses into a rambling essay on “what is the meaning of nothing” with all the author’s usual asides. Boring to wade through, as he seems to have no point other than show off his wide array of knowledge (which, of course, is a valid point for discussion, but not one I particularly care about.) If he had stuck to the history, this would have been a great, albeit short, book.