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

I have to admit that I haven't finished reading this book. With over six hundred, large-format pages and relatively small type, it would probably not have made "Hal's Picks" until next year if I had waited until I had completed it. However, it is entirely possible to dip in for a chapter here and a chapter there. No matter where you peruse, you will find information about number systems and their history that you didn't know beforehand. This book was instigated by the questions of schoolchildren to their teacher, Georges Ifrah: "Where do numbers come from?" "Who invented zero?" In striving to answer those questions, he found himself on a quest through history and ethnology that resulted in this monumental piece of scholarship. It is a reminder that the frontiers of human knowledge are not far beyond the most naive question.

Publication information
Pick Attribution: 

Georges Ifrah

Publication Date: 
Saturday, January 1, 2000