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

by Georges Ifrah

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Showing 1-5 of 7 (next | show all)
Very detailed and concentrated text. Many illustrations and examples. A good read, but a hard read.
  johninBurnham | Jul 24, 2016 |
Man, what a great find. I've been wanting a collection like this, chock-full of illustrations, for some time now. And, bonus, it's a big book (the 2000 edition) but printed on this great thick but lightweight paper, so despite its size it's a light book.

In the first chapter, all the numeric writing systems are gathered and compared (with the glaring exception of Asia, though the Mayan somewhat represents it). ( )
  br77rino | Feb 25, 2016 |
Born speaking Hebrew Arabic and French in Morocco, and widely-traveled, Georges Ifrah provides a comprehensive tour of how "numbers" were used by people across expanses of time, place and culture. He shows that the Hand is a computer-calculator [xiv], and was used as such by the Cave Painting inhabitants of Europe. [xiii]

Ifrah also explains many numerical oddities. Why do we still use Roman Numerals (especially in dates, e.g. film credit crawls)? If we have ten fingers, why do clocks have 60 minute hours? Why did Lincoln count by 20s in his Gettysburg Address? How did the Inca count using Quipu sticks and knots on a string?

Our "Arabic" numeral forms only migrated from southern India about 1,500 years ago. And now we see the numerals shared by humanity.

"For all our differences, we are united by this great system of symbols." Ifrah explains:

"By their universality...figures bear witness, better than the babel of languages, to the underlying unity of human culture. When we consider them, our awareness of the prodigious and fruitful diversity of societies and histories gives way to a feeling of almost absolute continuity. Though they are only one part of human history, they bind it together, sum it up, and run through it from one end to the other, like that red thread which, according to Goethe, ran through all the ropes of the British navy, so that one could not cut a piece from any of them without recognizing that it belonged to the Crown." [xvi]

"Figures are profoundly human". ( )
  keylawk | Jan 7, 2016 |
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. ( )
  hcubic | Jan 30, 2013 |
This is an – it seems exhausting - encyclopedia of numbers, number notation and of counting in all (?) cultures, historic or present, for which relevant records are preserved. It is a truly monumental work and labor of love. The wealth of detail makes it unsuitable to be studied from cover to cover and, at times, difficult to find answers to specific questions. The arrangement is roughly historical and by culture. (VII-12) ( )
1 vote MeisterPfriem | Jul 31, 2012 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Georges Ifrahprimary authorall editionscalculated
Bellos, DavidTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Dedication
For you, my wife,
the admirably patient witness of the joys and agonies that this hard labour has procured me, or which you have been subjected, over so many years.
For your tenderness and for the intelligence of your criticism.
For you, Hanna, to whom this book and its author owe so much.
 
And for you, Gabrielle and Emmanuelle,
my daughters, my passion.
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FOREWORD
The main aim of this two-volume work is to provide in simple and accessible terms the full and complete answer to all and any questions that anyone might want to ask about the history of numbers and of counting, from prehistory to the age of computers.
More than ten years ago, an American translation of the predecessor of The Universal History of Number appeared under the title From One to Zero, translated by Lowell Bair (Viking, 1985). The present book -- translated afresh -- is many times larger....
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By their universality...figures bear witness, better than the babel of languages, to the underlying unity of human culture. When we consider them, our awareness of the prodigious and fruitful diversity of societies and histories gives way to a feeling of almost absolute continuity. Though they are only one part of human history, they bind it together, sum it up, and run through it from one end to the other, like that red thread which, according to Goethe, ran through all the ropes of the British navy, so that one could not cut a piece from any of them without recognizing that it belonged to the Crown.
"Figures are profoundly human".
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0471393401, Paperback)

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 Lightner

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:10:46 -0400)

(see all 6 descriptions)

Chronicles the history of counting and calculating from the time of cave dwellers to the late twentieth century, examining how different cultures used numbers to solve basic problems related to their everyday needs.

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