The Universal History of Numbers: From Prehistory to the Invention of the Computer

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Wiley, Oct 9, 2000 - Mathematics - 656 pages
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"Georges Ifrah is the man. This book, quite simply, rules. . . . It is outstanding . . . a mind-boggling and enriching experience." –The Guardian (London) "Monumental. . . . a fascinating journey taking us through many different cultures."–The Times (London)"Ifrah’s book amazes and fascinates by the scope of its scholarship. It is nothing less than the history of the human race told through figures." –International Herald Tribune Now in paperback, here is Georges Ifrah’s landmark international bestseller–the first complete, universal study of the invention and evolution of numbers the world over. A riveting history of counting and calculating, from the time of the cave dwellers to the twentieth century, this fascinating volume brings numbers to thrilling life, explaining their development in human terms, the intriguing situations that made them necessary, and the brilliant achievements in human thought that they made possible. It takes us through the numbers story from Europe to China, via ancient Greece and Rome, Mesopotamia, Latin America, India, and the Arabic countries. Exploring the many ways civilizations developed and changed their mathematical systems, Ifrah imparts a unique insight into the nature of human thought–and into how our understanding of numbers and the ways they shape our lives have changed and grown over thousands of years. "Dazzling."–Kirkus Reviews "Sure to transfix readers."–PublishersWeekly

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Contents

Ethnological and Psychological Approaches to the Sources of Numbers
3
Base Numbers and the Birth of Numbersystems
23
The Earliest Calculating MachineThe Hand
47
How CroMagnon Man Counted
62
Accounting for Beginners
64
Numbers on Strings
68
Number Value and Money
72
Numbers of Sumer
77
Letters and Numbers
212
The Invention of Alphabetic Numerals
227
Other Alphabetic Numbersystems
240
Magic Mysticism Divination and Other Secrets
248
The Numbers of Chinese Civilisation
263
The Amazing Achievements of the Maya
297
The Final Stage of Numerical Notation
323
the Cradle of Modern Numerals
356

The Enigma of the Sexagesimal Base
91
The Development of Written Numerals in Elam and Mesopotamia
96
The Decipherment of a Fivethousandyearold System
109
How the Sumerians Did Their Sums
121
Mesopotamian Numbering after the Eclipse of Sumer
134
The Numbers of Ancient Egypt
162
Counting in the Times of the Cretan and Hittite Kings
178
Greek and Roman Numerals
182
PART II Dictionary of the Numeral Symbols of Indian Civilisation
440
Indian Numerals and Calculation in the Islamic World
511
The Slow Progress of IndoArabic Numerals in Western Europe
577
Beyond Perfection
592
Bibliography
601
Index of Names and Subjects
616
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About the author (2000)

GEORGES IFRAH is an independent scholar and former math teacher. DAVID BELLOS, the primary translator, is Professor of French at Princeton University. SOPHIE WOOD, cotranslator, is a specialist in technical translation from French. IAN MONK, cotranslator, has translated the works of Georges Perec and Daniel Pennac.

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