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Mathematics in Ancient Iraq:
A Social History
Eleanor Robson

Winner of the 2011 Pfizer Award for Best Scholarly Book, History of Science Society
One of Choice's Outstanding Academic Titles for 2009
Honourable Mention in the British-Kuwait Friendship Society Prize in Middle Eastern Studies 2009, British Society for Middle Eastern Studies

Hardcover | 2008 | $75.00 | £62.95 | ISBN: 9780691091822
472 pp. | 6 x 9 1/4 | 24 halftones. 51 line illus. 60 tables.
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This monumental book traces the origins and development of mathematics in the ancient Middle East, from its earliest beginnings in the fourth millennium BCE to the end of indigenous intellectual culture in the second century BCE when cuneiform writing was gradually abandoned. Eleanor Robson offers a history like no other, examining ancient mathematics within its broader social, political, economic, and religious contexts, and showing that mathematics was not just an abstract discipline for elites but a key component in ordering society and understanding the world.

The region of modern-day Iraq is uniquely rich in evidence for ancient mathematics because its prehistoric inhabitants wrote on clay tablets, many hundreds of thousands of which have been archaeologically excavated, deciphered, and translated. Drawing from these and a wealth of other textual and archaeological evidence, Robson gives an extraordinarily detailed picture of how mathematical ideas and practices were conceived, used, and taught during this period. She challenges the prevailing view that they were merely the simplistic precursors of classical Greek mathematics, and explains how the prevailing view came to be. Robson reveals the true sophistication and beauty of ancient Middle Eastern mathematics as it evolved over three thousand years, from the earliest beginnings of recorded accounting to complex mathematical astronomy. Every chapter provides detailed information on sources, and the book includes an appendix on all mathematical cuneiform tablets published before 2007.

Eleanor Robsonis reader in ancient Middle Eastern science at the University of Cambridge and a fellow of Darwin College, Cambridge. Her books include Mesopotamian Mathematics, 2100-1600 BC and, edited with Jacqueline Stedall, The Oxford Handbook of the History of Mathematics.


"[F]ascinating."--Edward Rothstein, New York Times

"Robson brings both a profound erudition in cuneiform and a nondogmatic constructionist view of mathematics to tell the history of Mesopotamian mathematics over the three millennia before the Common Era, connecting as she does the mathematical accomplishments to the cultural and societal norms of the day. . . . A magisterial work, lucidly written, certain to endure."--M. Schiff, Choice

"Author Robson deals admirably with an enormous scope (more than 3,000 years, with roughly equal space devoted to each 500-year epoch); numerous sources (950 published clay tablets, all of which are available at a simple Website); and the cultural context (social history, an ethnomathematical approach)."--Mathematics Magazine

"Robson's book is a wonderful summary of what we know so far, and will be the standard for this generation, but the potential is there for far more research to teach us even more about mathematics in ancient Iraq."--Victor J. Katz, Mathematical Reviews

"For archaeologists and archaeologically-minded historians . . . Robson provide[s] significant new insights into the mathematics of ancient civilisations, while challenging us to consider how language, material culture, and socio-technical practices are integrated, not only in mathematics, but in many domains."--Stephen Chrisomalis, Antiquity

"The wealth of detail and breadth of scope make this an excellent resource for a wide variety of readership. It can be read as one great narrative sweep, or one can bear down on a particular facet. The work is a huge advance in the presentation of modern scholarship on ancient mathematics to interested readers, specialist and non-specialist alike."--Duncan J. Melville, Historia Mathematica

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