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A History of Mathematics, Second Edition Paperback – March 6, 1991

ISBN-13: 978-0471543978 ISBN-10: 0471543977 Edition: 2nd
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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

What do you mean there's no chapter 0? Whether or not you think that's a deficit, A History of Mathematics more than makes up for it with its depth and engaging analysis of the development of the "flawless science." Historian Carl B. Boyer designed it as a practical textbook for communicating math's complex timelines to interested college students in 1968; Uta C. Merzbach has gently revised it to bring it in line with current thought. Much of the early chapters are untouched, with new 19th- and 20th-century chapters covering Boyer's omissions and new and revised references guiding the reader to additional resources.

From the origins of numbering to the future of computing, the authors strive for comprehensive examination and clear, simple explanations. Some of the math will daunt those who have never taken college-level courses (or have forgotten what they learned), but some of the more elaborate technical material can be skipped if needed. Especially helpful is the extensive timeline-appendix that proceeds from the beginning of time to the late 20th century. Whether you're using it to gain a better understanding of mathematics or to broaden your awareness of the historical record, A History of Mathematics will help you make sense of the wide world of numbers. --Rob Lightner

From the Back Cover

"Boyer and Merzbach distill thousands of years of mathematics into this fascinating chronicle. From the Greeks to Godel, the mathematics is brilliant; the cast of characters is distinguished; the ebb and flow of ideas is everywhere evident. And, while tracing the development of European mathematics, the authors do not overlook the contributions of Chinese, Indian, and Arabic civilizations. Without doubt, this is—and will long remain—a classic one-volume history of mathematics and mathematicians who create it." —William Dunham Author, Journey Through Genius, The Great Theorems of Mathematics "When we read a book like A History of Mathematics, we get the picture of a mounting structure, ever taller and broader and more beautiful and magnificent—and with a foundation, moreover, that is as untainted and as functional now as it was when Thales worked out the first geometrical theorems nearly 26 centuries ago." —From the Foreword by Isaac Asimov "One of the most useful and comprehensive general introductions to the subject." —J. W. Dauben The City University of New York "Both readable and scholarly, this book can serve as a fine introduction to the topic and also a reference book." —J. David Bolter University of North Carolina Author of Turing’s Man Revised to make it more accessible to a general audience, A History of Mathematics paints a vivid picture of humankind’s relationship with numbers. Updated and expanded, it now offers broadened coverage of twentieth century advances in probability and computers, and updated references to further reading. A feature that will be of interest to every reader is an appendix containing an extensive chronological table of mathematical and general historical developments.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 736 pages
  • Publisher: Wiley; 2nd edition (March 6, 1991)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0471543977
  • ISBN-13: 978-0471543978
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1.9 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (18 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #286,691 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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114 of 119 people found the following review helpful By Juergen Kahrs on September 5, 1999
Format: Paperback
The first edition of this book was published in 1968. In the preface to the first edition, Carl Boyer mentions some other books about the history of mathematics and why he thinks it is necessary to write just another one. The most important reason for him is strict adherence to chronological arrangement and a stronger emphasis on historical elements. From my point of view, this aim is (at once) the strength and the weakness of the book. In this single volume of more than 700 pages, the book supplies you with so much detailed historical facts and numbers that it really deserves to be called "A History Of Mathematics". But soon after starting to read the book, I lost interest in reading it. Why was it so boring to read facts and even more facts ? The wealth of material alone does not answer the questions about the history of mathematical ideas.
But Boyer also supplied the solution to this problem. Among the books he recommends in the preface of the first edition is a much shorter book by Howard Eves (Foundations and Fundamental Concepts Of Mathematics, ISBN 0-486-69609-X). Eves' book emphasizes the historical development of the most important ideas and methods through more than 2000 years. After reading Eves' book, you can return to Boyer's book and you will appreciate the wealth of details much more because your mind is equipped with a guideline.
There is one other fact worth mentioning about the book. The avaiable second edition has been revised by Uta C. Merzbach and Isaac Asimov has written a foreword. Merzbach left the first 22 chapter virtually unchanged. The chapters about more recent developments have been expanded. In revising the references and the bibliography, Merzbach replaced Boyer's references (often non-English sources) by works in English.
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41 of 42 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on January 27, 1998
Format: Paperback
OK, I admit that it took me about five years to finish reading this book. But it isn't because it's dry and boring but because I spent most of that time trying to solve the problems that were the obsession of mathematicians throughout the ages without reading ahead. I started just after acquiring my degree in Mathematics and it showed me just how little of the vast field I had learned. The book starts from the earliest evidence we have of mathematics and how it pre-dates writing and traverses the development of mathematical thought throughout the ages to the present. From developments of notation to deep mysteries such as why mathematics is doomed to leave us with questions we cannot answer. One of the nice touches of the book is that it recognizes that the development of math occurred in places other than Europe and that men were not the only ones who discovered its mysteries. Make no mistake, however: If you hate math, you aren't going to like this book. While it is, indeed, a historical account of the development of mathematics, it is still a book about mathematics. You will need a decent understanding of how math works to truly appreciate what is laid out.
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Dylan on September 6, 2010
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I picked up this and Burton's similarly named book, and I just wanted to make a few comments and comparisons of the two.

First off, both are excellent reads, and although they cover the same subject they approach it in two different manners. Boyer's text takes the style of a history book to approach the topic. It often focuses on the people and on the time period, commenting on political/cultural going-on. Its an enjoyable book to read, almost in the sense of reading a novel. Usually the mathematics is brought up in the text, but most of the proofs and derivations are often glossed over. Possible many of those mathematical details were in the questions that are no longer at the end of the chapters. But I found missing those details to be somewhat frustrating.

Conversely Burton takes the approach of a mathematics textbook that follows the story line of history. Its filled with proofs and examples, but isn't quite as rich in historical content. Each chapter ends with numerous "homework" problems, often times relating to specific solutions to a problem found by different mathematicians.

Both are excellent books, but depending on your personal taste and interests you may prefer one approach over the other. If you are looking to sit down and work through historical mathematical problems, Burton is probably right for you. If you want to cozy up and imagine what life and thought was like throughout different times in civilization, Boyer is probably your answer.

Hope this is helpful.
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20 of 24 people found the following review helpful By Matt J Taylor on March 28, 2005
Format: Paperback
Hey I read this book loved it, and everyone should read it! Hey I am no brain, I do not belong to Mensa, nor am I endowed with any superior intelect, I am an average guy, Just a B student, who fell in love with this book. Anybody if they really want can understand this book and really appreciate what math is. Mathmatics before this book was just a bunch of numbers on a page any countless formulas to memorize, however this book changed me, I see math a whole different way now. Studying the history of mathmatics is like studying the history of the world. It is a shame this information is never taught in elementry school, it would make kids a lot more interested in math and actually be able to see what the numbers mean. After reading this book a door has been opened. I now am more curious about mathmatics and well everything! I understand where those numbers came from, Pie no longer is something I eat or some funy thing in a formula to find the area of a circle, it actually means something to now.
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