What We Are Reading Today: Mathematics in Ancient Egypt by Annette Imhausen

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Updated 14 October 2020

What We Are Reading Today: Mathematics in Ancient Egypt by Annette Imhausen

Mathematics in Ancient Egypt traces the development of Egyptian mathematics, from the end of the fourth millennium BC—and the earliest hints of writing and number notation—to the end of the pharaonic period in Greco-Roman times. 

Drawing from mathematical texts, architectural drawings, administrative documents, and other sources, Annette Imhausen surveys three thousand years of Egyptian history to present an integrated picture of theoretical mathematics in relation to the daily practices of Egyptian life and social structures.

Imhausen shows that from the earliest beginnings, pharaonic civilization used numerical techniques to efficiently control and use their material resources and labor. Even during the Old Kingdom, a variety of metrological systems had already been devised. By the Middle Kingdom, procedures had been established to teach mathematical techniques to scribes in order to make them proficient administrators for their king.

Imhausen looks at counterparts to the notation of zero, suggests an explanation for the evolution of unit fractions, and analyzes concepts of arithmetic techniques. She draws connections and comparisons to Mesopotamian mathematics, examines which individuals in Egyptian society held mathematical knowledge, and considers which scribes were trained in mathematical ideas and why.

Of interest to historians of mathematics, mathematicians, Egyptologists, and all those curious about Egyptian culture, Mathematics in Ancient Egypt sheds new light on a civilization’s unique mathematical evolution.


What We Are Reading Today: A Place for Everything by Judith Flanders

Updated 6 min 14 sec ago

What We Are Reading Today: A Place for Everything by Judith Flanders

A Place for Everything fascinatingly lays out the gradual triumph of alphabetical order, from its possible earliest days as a sorting tool to its current decline in prominence in our digital age of Wikipedia and Google.
Historian Judith Flanders draws readers’ attention to both the neglected ubiquity of the alphabet and the long, complex history of its rise to prominence.
A Place for Everything presents the study and analysis made by the author of the alphabet’s origins and its development as a sorting tool.
“This book will be very interesting to a narrow audience of people — particularly librarians,” said a review in goodreads.com.
Deirdre Mask said in a review for The New York Times for The New York Times that Flanders, a meticulous scholar who has written books on Victorian London and the history of Christmas, “prioritizes thoroughness, and at times her book can read a bit like the encyclopedias she writes about. The footnotes get some of the best lines.”
Mask is the author of The Address Book: What Street Addresses Reveal About Identity, Race, Wealth,
and Power.