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The universal history of computing. From the abacus to the quantum computer. Transl. from the French and with notes by E. F. Harding. Assisted by Sophie Wood, Ian Monk, Elizabeth Clegg and Guido Waldman. (English) Zbl 0969.68001
Chichester: Wiley. iv, 412 p. $ 24.95 (2000).

Publisher’s description: “Suppose every instrument could by command or by anticipation of need execute its function on its own; suppose that spindles could weave of their own accord, and plectra strike the strings of zithers by themselves; then craftsmen would have no need of hand-work, and masters have no need of slaves.” – Aristotle 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 The universal history of numbers (Wiley, New York) (2000; Zbl 0955.01002), drew from this remarkable journey, presented the first complete account of the invention and evolution of numbers the world over – and became an international bestseller.

In 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 achievements 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, 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 computers 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.

In this engaging successor to The universal history of numbers, you’ll discover the entire story of the calculation of yesteryear and the computation of today. Highly acclaimed author and mathematician Georges Ifrah provides an illuminating glimpse into humankind’s greatest intellectual tale: the story of computing.

68-03Historical (computer science)
01A05General histories, source books
68M99Computer system organization