Amir D. Aczel

Portrait of Amir D.  Aczel

Amir Dan Aczel (6 Nov 1950, Haifa, Israel- 26 Nov 2015, Nimes, France) was an Israeli-born American mathermatician, lecturer in the history of mathematics and science, and author of books accessible to a large public who researched in particular the origins of "0".

He has recounted how, while traveling around the Mediterranean on board the liner Theodor Herzl, captained by his father, he developed a fascination for numbers when he crept into the Monte Carlo Casino at age 7. His father also taught him to steer and navigate a ship at age 10, which later inspired his book The Riddle of the Compass.


Aczel's father and French-Italian-Egyptian singer Dalida on board SS Theodor Herzl in 1957 (photo from the book Finding Zero)

After studying at the University of California at Berkeley and earning a Ph.D. in statistics from the University of Oregon, Amir Aczel taught mathematics at universities in California, Alaska, Massachusetts, Italy, and Greece, with a professorship at Bentley College, Massachusetts, USA, where he taught classes on statistics and the history of science and history of mathematics. He authored two textbooks on statistics. His book, Fermat's Last Theorem (ISBN 978-1-56858-077-7), was a United States bestseller and was nominated for a Los Angeles Times Book Prize.

A 2004 Fellow of the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, a visiting scholar in the History of Science at Harvard University (2007), he was keen to make science more accessible to the general public. He was awarded a Sloan Foundation grant to research his 2015 book Finding Zero, in which he assumed that Indian and Khmer civilizations acknowledged the notion of "zero" before the Western world. He published many books on "the underlying mathematics in the universe, including The Mystery of the Aleph, Descartes' Secret Notebook: A True Tale of Mathematics, Mysticism, and the Quest to Understand the Universe (2005), Uranium Wars, God's Equation: Einstein, Relativity, and the Expanding Universe.

During his last years, Amir Aczel settled in France with his wife Debra (they were married in 1984). In 2019, Debra Aczel and daughter Miriam Aczel (to whom Finding Zero is dedicated) launched The Zero Project, an international conference-cum-workshop by the Amir Aczel Foundation.


Debra and Miriam Aczel in Phnom Penh for the launch of The Zero Project, 2019 (photo Debra Aczel)


Amir Aczel and daughter Miriam in the 2000s (photo Debra Aczel)