Empire of the Sum: The Rise and Reign of the Pocket Calculator (Hardcover)

Empire of the Sum: The Rise and Reign of the Pocket Calculator By Keith Houston Cover Image
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A New York Times Book Review Editors' Choice

The hidden history of the pocket calculator—a device that ushered in modern mathematics, helped build the atomic bomb, and went with us to the moon—and the mathematicians, designers, and inventors who brought it to life.

Starting with hands, abacus, and slide rule, humans have always reached for tools to simplify math. Pocket-sized calculators ushered in modern mathematics, helped build the atomic bomb, took us to the bottom of the ocean, and accompanied us to the moon. The pocket calculator changed our world, until it was supplanted by more modern devices that, in a cruel twist of irony, it helped to create. The calculator is dead; long live the calculator.

In this witty mathematic and social history, Keith Houston transports readers from the nascent economies of the ancient world to World War II, where a Jewish engineer calculated for his life at Buchenwald, and into the technological arms race that led to the first affordable electronic pocket calculators. At every turn, Houston is a scholarly, affable guide to this global history of invention. Empire of the Sum will appeal to math lovers, history buffs, and anyone seeking to understand our trajectory to the computer age.

About the Author

Keith Houston is the author of Shady Characters and The Book. His writing has appeared in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Financial TimesMental FlossBBC Culture, and on Time.com. He lives in Birmingham, England.

Praise For…

[An] enlightening history.
— The Times Literary Supplement

Houston’s narrative is full of oddballs, many of them brilliant…
— New York Times Book Review

Houston’s sprightly history aims to give the calculator the recognition it deserves as a stepping stone to the digital era… He makes a convincing case, in sum, for the significance of the calculator.
— The Economist

Walking readers from a 42,000-year-old counting aid to digital spreadsheets, the book provides a breezy mathematical history tour through the development of number systems, slide rules, mechanical calculators and microchips. 
— Nature

An entertaining, informative story about a technology that defined an era.
— Kirkus Reviews

Empire of the Sum spans centuries and reaches across the universe, always coming back to humanity’s craving for calculating machines in all their diverse forms. I dare you to reach the end of this book and not be irresistibly charmed by both the pocket calculator and Keith Houston’s witty, gregarious prose.

— Nathalia Holt, New York Times best-selling author of Rise of the Rocket Girls

Keith Houston unfolds a complex and fascinating history of numeracy, the evolution of technology, and the human desire to push our capabilities ever further. Deep, fun, and insightful all at once: my favorite type of technology book.
— Cal Newport, New York Times best-selling author of Digital Minimalism and A World Without Email

Houston serves as a fantastically insightful and accessible tour guide on this charming journey of an oft-overlooked invention that changed the world and, in its demise, radically changed the world once again.
— Blake J. Harris, author of The History of the Future and Console Wars

Product Details
ISBN: 9780393882148
ISBN-10: 0393882144
Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company
Publication Date: August 22nd, 2023
Pages: 384
Language: English