A Brief History of Numbers

ISBN : 9780198702597

Leo Corry
336 Pages
162 x 240 mm
Pub date
Aug 2015
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The world around us is saturated with numbers. They are a fundamental pillar of our modern society, and accepted and used with hardly a second thought. But how did this state of affairs come to be? In this book, Leo Corry tells the story behind the idea of number from the early days of the Pythagoreans, up until the turn of the twentieth century. He presents an overview of how numbers were handled and conceived in classical Greek mathematics, in the mathematics of Islam, in European mathematics of the middle ages and the Renaissance, during the scientific revolution, all the way through to the mathematics of the 18th to the early 20th century. Focusing on both foundational debates and practical use numbers, and showing how the story of numbers is intimately linked to that of the idea of equation, this book provides a valuable insight to numbers for undergraduate students, teachers, engineers, professional mathematicians, and anyone with an interest in the history of mathematics.


1. The System of Numbers: An Overview
2. Writing Numbers: Now and Back Then
3. Numbers and Magnitudes in the Greek Mathematical Tradition
4. Construction Problems and Numerical Problems in the Greek Mathematical Tradition
5. Numbers in the Tradition of Medieval Islam
6. Numbers in Europe from the 12th to the 16th Centuries
7. Number and Equations at the Beginning of the Scientific Revolution
8. Number and Equations in theWorks of Descartes, Newton, and their Contemporaries
9. New Definitions of Complex Numbers in the Early 19th Century
10. "What are numbers and what should they be?" Understanding Numbers in the Late 19th Century
11. Exact Definitions for the Natural Numbers: Dedekind, Peano and Frege
12. Numbers, Sets and Infinity. A Conceptual Breakthrough at the Turn of the Twentieth Century
13. Epilogue: Numbers in Historical Perspective

About the author: 

Leo Corry is a historian of mathematics with a very broad range of interest, that comprise, among other things, the history of modern algebra, the history of number theory, the history of general relativity, and the Euclidean tradition in the middle ages and the early modern period. He has published extensively in all these fields. He teaches at Tel Aviv University, where he is the Bert and Barbara Cohn Professor of History and Philosophy of Science. Since 2013 he is director of the Zvi Yavetz Graduate School of History. He was head of the Cohn Institute for History and Philosophy of Science (2003-2009), and editor of the international journal Science in Context (1999-2012).

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