The Story of Mathematics

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The Story of Mathematics

Story of Mathematics, The - Paperback - USA - 1st Edition.jpg

Paperback - USA - 1st edition.

Author Anne Rooney
Published 2008-??-??
Type Non-fiction
Genre Educational
Themes History, Mathematics
Age Group Adult

The Story of Mathematics is a book about the history of mathematics written by Anne Rooney and published in January 2008. It is the first book in Rooney's The Story Of series.

The book describes the origin of number systems, how each of the main branches of mathematics came out, and important mathematicians throughout history.


Own?Paperback - USA - 1st edition.
Read?Paperback - USA - 1st edition.

I probably bought my copy in the discount section of a book store around 2012, and I probably read it shortly thereafter. I remember liking it the first time through, then, wanting to create a page for it in this Wiki, I reread it and finished it on 2023-06-09.





  • Despite being about mathematics, the book is very easy to follow. It's fully illustrated and written for the general reader.
  • The first chapter is a great introduction into teaching how numbers are a something humans had to invent rather than concepts that just exist on their own. It starts with pre-numeric systems like tick marks, then moves onto various early counting systems like Roman Numerals and the Chinese multiplicative system, then discusses the various base-5, 12 and 60 systems used by ancient cultures, before finally getting to the Hindu-Arabic system we use today. It also describes early versions of zero before it became a true placeholder, negative numbers, and fractions. Later chapters discuss the origin of using symbols in math like the plus sign (+) and division sign (÷), which showed up far more recently than I would have thought.
  • I like how it discusses how early cultures don't have words for big numbers, and, when they do, they're cumbersome.
  • By putting mathematical advancements in chronological order, the book serves as a nice reminder that new ideas were rarely made in a vacuum. Even calculus saw progress through several mathematicians leading up to Newton and Leibniz.
  • The book ends with the formalization of mathematics into logic and asking an important question, what exactly is math?


  • The magazine layout, with many sidebars on each page, is nice if you just want to flip through the book, but makes it difficult to stay focused on the main thread if you're actually trying to read it.
  • Once you start getting into more complicated concepts, the author makes no attempt to explain them and only very briefly mentions important mathematical concepts like e and the quadratic formula. Often times she doesn't really even describe what they're used for. This is forgivable since it's more a history book than a math primer, but I'd still prefer a bit more information.
  • The author doesn't push a religious agenda, but also isn't very critical of religious claims. For example, in the chapter on statistics, in the section on collecting data about people, the author cites the Gospel of Luke where Jospeh had to return to Bethlehem to be counted in the census as an early example of data collection. However modern historians are quick to point out there is no evidence such a census never took place and it would be both completely impractical and meaningless.


  • Despite being a history book, there are no citations at all. Even a popular history book should have citations. Because of this, when you see dubious claims like a 6x6 magic square being related to the mark of the beast, something I never heard of in all my religious reading, it's very difficult to verify. Other claims, like Hippasus being the first to discover irrational numbers, are stated firmly, despite not having strong historical evidence.