NUMBER by John McLeish


The History of Numbers and How They Shape Our Lives
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 In one of those coincidences that mathematicians themselves would say probability theory was designed to fathom, October will see the publication of two new books dealing with the history of mathematics. McLeish (Mathematics/Victoria Univ., B.C.) chooses the straightforward historical approach, from preliterate to ancient to contemporary societies, providing plenty of examples of exactly how the Maya or the Mesopotamians calculated, or how modern computers do today. John D. Barrow (reviewed above) also covers the tally sticks and finger-counting of early days, but his focus is more on the foundations of mathematics, the paradoxes and conceptual conundrums that have given rise to 20th-century angst. Both McLeish and Barrow decry the baleful influence of Greek and later Christian antiscientific attitudes that plunged the West into the Dark Ages while Indian and Arab mathematics flourished. McLeish adds interesting examples of Hebrew probabilistic thinking and logic in the Talmudic tradition. He then proceeds to the development of modern mathematics through the work of Newton, Napier, Babbage, and Boole down to the computer age. His and Barrow's books complement and supplement each other, with McLeish more concerned with the how, Barrow with the why. Neither McLeish nor Barrow seems terribly taken with computers. Somehow, both would agree, mathematics is larger than that--as evidenced in this informative book.

Pub Date: Oct. 21st, 1992
ISBN: 0-449-90693-0
Page count: 272pp
Publisher: Ballantine
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1st, 1992