Publisher: Il Mulino Societa’ Editrice
One, two, three… As children we have all learned the sequence of numbers by heart, but do we really know what numbers are? Or where they come from? Maybe they are a gift from God, as a great mathematician once said. Or perhaps they are a human invention, inspired by innate qualities we share with other animal species. This book tells the story of an extraordinary idea that took shape thousands of years ago in the ancient civilizations of Babylon and Egypt, in China, in the Aztec and Mayan cultures, and then spread throughout the world. On the coasts of Calabria, followers of Pythagoras discovered “unsayable” (that is, irrational) numbers. In India a symbol was invented to represent nothing. Traders and merchants found meaning in negative numbers. And the fertile minds of mathematicians have even found a use for imaginary and transfinite numbers.
Umberto Bottazzini teaches History of Mathematics at the University of Milan and belongs to the editorial boards of the most important international journals dealing with the history of mathematics.