Nonfiction Reference Science and Technology

Mathematics: From the Birth of Numbers

23 July 2018
Mathematics Book Cover Mathematics
Jan Gullberg
W. W. Norton & Company

Traces the history of mathematics and numeration, and reviews symbolic logic, set theory, series, equations, functions, geometry, trigonometry, vector analysis, fractals, matrices, calculus, probability theory, and differential equations


There is infinite beauty in mathematics and numbers!
When I say infinite, I immediately think about Pi and how it extends to infinite decimal places. When I say beauty, I think about how numbers can translate to graphical images with curves, straight lines and multiple dimensions, each with unique relationships and transformations. Picture the very precise yet artistic language of symbols and formatting, especially the Greek alphabet and its evolution from the Phoenician alphabet.

I love traditional poetry where we marvel at the efficient and skilful formation of words to explode images in our minds. In terms of the ability to transform simple notation and symbols into multi-dimensional fractious patterns and images, mathematics is the ultimate poetic staging.

Mathematics has a raw, honest and perfect beauty. Witness the power of the simple symbol =, which conveys balance, equilibrium and pure logic. The world exists with the satisfaction and reassurance that logic will prevail. There is a tendency to assume because mathematics is useful and critical in modern day life, that we can forget its impact on other aspects of nature, culture and history. Galileo Galilei stated, “Mathematics is the language with which God has written the universe.”

The book Mathematics from the Birth of Numbers, by Jan Gullberg, is a wonderful book that offers a different and informative look at mathematics. We have become fixated with learning how to deliver the usefulness that we no longer try to appreciate the true understanding and beauty. Jan Gullberg enables us to discover the cultural birth and evolution of numbering systems, and the almost mystical and mythical association with numbers such as the 7 arms of the Hebrew candelabra, the 7 wonders of the world, the 10 commandments, abstention for 40 days and nights during Lent, the 40 years the children of Israel wandered the desert, and Ali Baba and the 40 thieves.

The book covers notation and numbering systems from our ancient past. It reviews the numeration from ancient languages dating back thousands of years BC to the main numbering system in use in today’s world – binary. The contents cover the history, background, definition and functionality for all mathematics from algebra to trigonometry, geometry, matrices, calculus, sequences & series, probability and statistics. It is not a how-to book for mathematical formula and methods, it is an evocative story of the birth, growth and maturity of numbers and mathematical techniques.

This is a history book dealing with the origins of numbers and mathematics. This is a mathematics book steeped in a wealth of history. This is a book that you will want to dip in and out of on a regular basis, it’s probably not one you will read from cover to cover. Truly original.

Peter Donnelly

Founder of The Reading Desk, supporting readers, authors, publishers and book industry. Top Reviewer on Amazon, Goodreads, and NetGalley

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