"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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The title doesn't lie. Mathematician Georges Ifrah's masterpiece, The Universal History of Numbers, is a wonderfully comprehensive overview of numbers and counting spanning all the inhabited continents as far back in time as records will allow us to look. Beyond the ancient Babylonians, Sumerians, and Indians, Ifrah takes us farther south into Africa to examine an early decimal counting system and into ancient Mexico to reconstruct what we can of the Mayan calendar and numerical system. The 27 chapters are chiefly organized by culture, though there are some cross-cultural overviews of topics like letters and numbers.
The author's aim was grand: "to provide in simple and accessible terms the full and complete answer to all and any questions ... about the history of numbers and counting, from prehistory to the age of computers." This led him to wander the world for 10 years, studying and learning; this scholastic pilgrim has returned with amazing stories to tell. Toward the end of the book, Ifrah makes the book truly universal by refuting alien-intervention theories of cultural origins--surely our benefactors would have given us an efficient decimal counting system, zero and all, before helping us build pyramids and such. Such charming ideas, combined with such rigorously researched facts, make The Universal History of Numbers a uniquely important and fascinating volume. --Rob LightnerFrom the Back Cover:
A riveting history of counting and calculating from the time of the cave dwellers to the late twentieth century, The Universal History of Numbers is the first complete account of the invention and evolution of numbers the world over. As different cultures around the globe struggled with problems of harvests, constructing buildings, educating their citizens, and exploring the wonders of science, each civilization created its own unique and wonderful mathematical system.
Dubbed the "Indiana Jones of numbers," Georges Ifrah traveled all over the world for ten years to uncover the little-known details of this amazing story. From India to China, and from Egypt to Chile, Ifrah talked to mathematicians, historians, archaeologists, and philosophers. He deciphered ancient writing on crumbling walls; scrutinized stones, tools, cylinders, and cones; and examined carved bones, elaborately knotted counting strings, and X-rays of the contents of never-opened ancient clay accounting balls. Conveying all the excitement and joy of the process of discovery, Ifrah writes in a delightful storytelling style, recounting a plethora of intriguing and amusing anecdotes along the way.
From the stories of the various ingenious ways in which different early cultures used their bodies to count and perfected the use of the first calculating machine-the hand-to the invention of different styles of tally sticks, up through the creation of alphabetic numbers, the Greek and Roman numeric systems, and the birth of modern numerals in ancient India, we are taken on a marvelous journey through humankind's grand intellectual epic.
We meet those who only count to four-anything more is "a lot"; discover the first uses of counting fingers and toes; learn of the amazing ability of abacus users to calculate with brilliant efficiency; and ponder the intriguing question: How did many cultures manage to calculate for all those centuries without a zero? Exploring the many ways civilizations developed and changed their mathematical systems, Ifrah imparts a unique insight into the nature of human thought-and into the ways our understanding of numbers and how they shape our lives has slowly changed and grown over thousands of years.
In this illuminating and entertaining work, you'll learn about:The earliest calculating machine--the handTally sticks--accounting for beginnersHow the Sumerians did their sumsGreek and Roman numeralsThe invention of alphabetic numeralsThe achievements of the Mayan civilizationIndia and the birth of modern numbersIndo-Arabic numerals and how they reached the WestThe final stage of numerical notation
Praise for The Universal History of Numbers"Let us start the year with a bang. Georges Ifrah is the man. This book, quite simply, rules. . . . It is outstanding, and not least because it has been written from first principles, for people like you and me, curious but by no means expert . . . a mind-boggling and enriching experience."-The Guardian"Pursuing the invention of numbers across civilizations, Georges Ifrah has written the grand story of human ingenuity. . . . His amazing undertaking, describing humankind's relationship with numbers from Paleolithic times to the computer age, spans the world from Mayan ruins to Indian museums, from Egyptian hieroglyphics to Greek philosophers to Chinese libraries."-Le Figaro"Follow the astonishing path of Georges Ifrah, the Indiana Jones of arithmetic . . . who decided in 1974 to begin the search for his Grail, the origin of numbers. Journeying over mountains and across valleys, he discovered how-from Mayan to Chinese, from Indian to Egyptian-humankind has juggled numbers."-Express"Ifrah's book amazes and fascinates . . . It is nothing less than thehistory of the human race told through figures."-International Herald Tribune
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Book Description Penguin Books, New Delhi, 2005. Paperback. Book Condition: As New. New. Contents 24. Part I. Indian civilization the cradle of modern numerals. 24. Part II. Dictionary of the numeral symbols of Indian civilisation. 25. Indian numerals and calculation in the Islamic world. 26. The slow progress of Indo Arabic numerals in Western Europe. 27. Beyond perfection. Bibliography. Index of names and subjects. Numbers are one of two creations (the other being the alphabet) of the human spirit which have given us today's world. The three volumes of The Universal History of Numbers are probably the first comprehensive history of numbers and of counting from prehistory to the modern age. They are also the story of how the human race has learnt to think logically. In volume II Georges Ifrah continues the story of the invention of the modern number system by telling us how Indian civilization became the cradle of modern numerals with the invention of the place value system and of zero. Twenty one geographically different Indian numerical notations of the nine numerals and the zero are explained individually with illustrations. A detailed dictionary of Indian numerical symbols recorded alphabetically gives the reader a better idea of the subtle and complicated world of numbers which derived from the genius of Indian mathematicians working in the late middle ages. It was Arab scholars who brought the system to the west. If western mathematical progress today looks dazzling it is because it stands on a solid non western foundation. Amazing captivating and enriching The Universal History of Numbers is a must read not only for specialists and academics but also for the average reader who is interested in the development of civilization. 544 pp. Bookseller Inventory # 54928