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The Universal History of Computing: From the Abacus to the Quantum Computer

ISBN: 978-0-471-44147-2
416 pages
January 2002
The Universal History of Computing: From the Abacus to the Quantum Computer (0471441473) cover image


"A fascinating compendium of information about writing systems–both for words and numbers."
–Publishers Weekly

"A truly enlightening and fascinating study for the mathematically oriented reader."

"Well researched. . . . This book is a rich resource for those involved in researching the history of computers."
–The Mathematics Teacher

In this brilliant follow-up to his landmark international bestseller, The Universal History of Numbers, Georges Ifrah 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. Ifrah takes us along as he visits mathematicians, visionaries, philosophers, and scholars from every corner of the world and every period of history. 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 further we still have to go.

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Table of Contents


Chapter 1: Historical Summary of Arithmetic, Numerical Notation, and Writing Systems.

Chapter 2: From the Particular to the General Arithmetic Leads to Algebra.

Chapter 3: From Calculation to Calculus.

Chapter 4: Binary Arithmetic and Other Non-Decimal Systems.


Chapter 5: From Clockwork Calculator to Computer: The History of Automatic Calculation.

Chapter 6: What is a Computer?


Chapter 7: Information, the New Universal Dimension.

Conclusion: Intelligence, Science, and the Future of Mankind.

List of Abbreviations.



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Author Information

GEORGES IFRAH is an independent scholar and former math teacher.
E. F. HARDING, the primary translator, is a statistician and mathematician who has taught at Aberdeen, Edinburgh, and Cambridge Universities.
SOPHIE WOOD, cotranslator, is a specialist in technical translation from French.
IAN MONK, cotranslator, has translated the works of Georges Perec and Daniel Pennac.
ELIZABETH CLEGG, cotranslator, is also an interpreter who has worked on a number of government and international agency projects.
GUIDO WALDMAN, cotranslator, has translated several classic literary works.
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