November 6, 2000
Called the Indiana Jones of arithmetic, Georges Ifrah embarked in 1974 on a ten-year quest to discover where numbers come from and what they say about us. His first book, the highly praised Universal History of Numbers, drew from this remarkable journey, presented the first completed account of the invention and evolution of numbers the world over – and became an international bestseller.
In the The Universal History of Computing, Ifrah continues his exhilarating exploration into the fascinating world of numbers. In this fun, engaging but no less learned book, he traces the development of computing from the invention of the abacus to the creation of the binary system three centuries ago to the incredible conceptual, scientific, and technical achievement that made the first modern computers possible. He shows us how various cultures, scientists, and industries across the world struggled to break free of the tedious labor of mental calculation and, as a result, he reveals the evolution of the human mind.
Evoking the excitement and joy that accompanied the grand mathematical undertakings throughout history, the Ifrah takes us along as he revisits a multitude of cultures, from Roman times and the Chinese Common Era to twentieth-century England and America. We meet mathematicians, visionaries, philosophers, and scholars from every corner of the world and from every period of history. We witness the dead ends and regressions in the computer’s development, as well as the advances and illuminating discoveries. We learn about the births of the pocket calculator, the adding machine, the cash register, and even automata. We find out how the origins of the computer can be found in the European Renaissance, along with how World War II influenced the development of analytical calculation. And we explore such hot topics as numerical codes and the recent discovery of new kinds of number systems, such as “surreal” numbers.
Adventurous and enthralling, The Universal History of Computing is an astonishing achievement that not only unravels the epic tale of computing, but also tells the compelling story of human intelligence – and how much farther we still have to go.
Georges Ifrah is an independent scholar and former math teacher. E. F. Harding, the primary translator, is a statistician and mathematician who has taught at Aberdeen, Edinburgh, and Cambridge universities. Sophie Wood, cotranslator, is a specialist in technical translation from French. Ian Monk, cotranslator, has translated the works of Georges Perec and Daniel Pennac. Elizabeth Clegg, cotranslator, is also an interpreter who has worked on a number of government and international agency projects. Guido Waldman, cotranslator, has translated several classic literary works.