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

4.05  ·  Rating Details ·  190 Ratings  ·  17 Reviews
"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 ...more
Paperback, 656 pages
Published October 9th 2000 by Wiley (first published 1981)
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Oct 09, 2012 Carlos rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, history
This book covered everything I was looking for and more. Ifrah does a magnificent and herculean job at sharing with the reader the wonderful path taken by those numbers that we can’t help but take for granted. He takes us through the evolution of arithmetic from the biological concepts of “one-two-many” to the great and intricate counting systems designed by many pre-literate societies. He similarly devotes ample time to explain the fascinating origin of the various bases used throughout history ...more
Sep 12, 2008 David rated it it was amazing
This is truly the definitive of the history of numbers. Ifrah has done a huge amount of research, and this encyclopedic treatment is the result. Among the many fascinating findings is that our modern system of decimal arithmetic, complete with positional notation, zero, and the usual algorithms for +-*/, was first discovered in India, not "Arabia", and much earlier than is often believed: Ifrah cites a large number of references that indicate that place the origin at least by 458 AD. One other v ...more
Maurizio Codogno
Questo libro è un'opera monumentale, ancora di più pensando che è stata composta da una sola persona. La parte più corposa del testo racconta tutti i sistemi di numerazione sviluppati dall'umanità. Sono davvero tanti, anche perché soprattutto nell'antichità questi sistemi si evolvevano e pertanto non si può parlare di un singolo sistema ma di una famiglia di sistemi. Inoltre anche il passaggio al sistema di numerazione attuale non è così semplice: si fa in fretta a dire "è stato inventato dagli ...more
Andrea Hickman Walker
Aug 17, 2013 Andrea Hickman Walker rated it it was amazing
I think the subtitle is rather misleading because it doesn't really discuss the invention of computers, unless one considers a computer to be any kind of calculating machine. There is a discussion of binary notation, along with the other bases. Overall the book is fascinating and incredibly detailed and informative. I was particularly interested by the fact that zero and cipher come from the same root. The knowledge that science and learning could have progressed much further much earlier is a r ...more
Kshitiz Uttam
Feb 17, 2010 Kshitiz Uttam rated it it was ok
Numbers are fascinating. So is history. History of numbers, then, must be bewitching. So I thought before I read this work. I was wrong. The book has been terribly written. It reads more like a research paper than a book.
Ifrah has done a terrific job researching this book. However, it seems that he has done just that, nothing more. He failed to weave a story out of the immense information he gathered. For instance, once you tell us how primitives counted, it should be enough. One does not need
Douglas Summers-Stay
Aug 01, 2015 Douglas Summers-Stay rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
I assumed that this would be a history of mathematics, or perhaps arithmetic. But no, like the title says, it's a history of of numbers. Numbers and counting systems from all different cultures, from prehistoric tally marks to sheep-counting techniques, to finger counting methods from around the world. You wouldn't think it would be possible to write such a thick book about just numbers for a popular audience, but there it is.
It's illustrated on almost every page, with Mayan scripts and the deve
Dec 31, 2007 Yune rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: owned
Detailed survey of counting systems across the world and ages. There are a lot more variations than you'd think; we're just so entrenched in our Arabic system. I skimmed over some of the painstaking details of each system, but everything presented on a more generalized conceptual level was fascinating.
Oct 17, 2010 Justin rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-2010
This book has some really interesting information about the origin of numbers and number systems. I had been wondering about why the circle is divided into 360 degrees and not 100 or something else. Then I found this book in a used book store. Eureka!
Nathan Pearson
Apr 25, 2007 Nathan Pearson rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The title is to be taken at face value. If you run across a copy, I dare you to flip it open and not end up droolingly rapt, wondering to yourself how you're ever going to convey to friends how fascinating Ifrah, through decades of absurdly devoted scholarship, has made the topic.
May 06, 2011 Kate rated it really liked it
I have not actually finished this behemoth of a book, nor will I probably ever finish this behemoth book. However, where I have skipped around, I have found it to be incredibly interesting. Definitive.
Jan 10, 2013 Eivind rated it it was amazing
Always at hand
Aug 09, 2007 E rated it really liked it
Extremely dense but clear and actually quite funny.
Nicholas Whyte[return][return]a fascinating read. Ifrah has catalogued the totality of arch
May 04, 2008 Anna rated it liked it
I treat this book as a bed time stories for mathematicians. I had problems reading it as my brain refused at some moment to take, chew and understand higher Maths.
Don M
Aug 06, 2011 Don M added it
"Already partly read and no intention to finish" category needed.
May 02, 2012 Stephenlouis rated it it was amazing
Quite likely the only book you will ever need to understand the history of numbers and what they really mean. I re-read this book once a year. Highly recommended.
Kyle Machulis
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Jan 10, 2014
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Oct 25, 2008
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Oct 19, 2007
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