Feature of the month: 400 years of logarithms

Mirifici logarithmorum canonis descriptio  [IMAGE Napier Mirifici 1614]
John Napier
Edinburgh: A. Hart, 1614
[DeM] L.5 [Napier] SSR

The Scottish mathematician John Napier (1550-1617) published his invention of logarithms in this Latin quarto in 1614. The book begins with 57 pages of text in two sections, one discussing the definitions and working rules of logarithms, the other their trigonometrical application. Forty-five double pages of tables follow. Logarithms enabled the substitution of simple addition and subscription for the complicated multiplication and division described by Napier in his introduction as “hard and tedious”, “so troublesome to mathematical practice”, both time-consuming and “for the most part subject to many slippery errors”. The nineteenth-century English mathematician Augustus De Morgan had five editions of Napier’s writings on logarithms, in addition to titles by Napier’s followers Henry Briggs and John Speidell and (based on Briggs) Adriaan Vlacq.

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