David: Your thought about it being someone else than Eves bears looking
into. Neither my copy of the 1953 Edition, or my copy of the third Edition,
has the offending comments in it. Regards, Bill
From: dbaeus [mailto:dmcfarla@...
Sent: Friday, May 31, 2002 9:15 AM
Subject: SR Re: Blasphemy!
Airlines may provide food, but anyone who goes on one for that reason
is apt to be disappointed. Likewise for anyone who turns to a
mathematician for psychiatric diagnosis.
Seriously, though, I wouldn't be too harsh on Professor Eves over
this one misstatement, given all the good he has done over the
First, Howard Eves, if he is still alive, would be 91 years old. His
80th birthday was honored with a conference in 1991, which resulted
in a festschrift published by the Mathematical Association of America
(In Eves' Circles, Joby Milo Anthony, editor).
The blasphemous quotation is from the 6th (1990) edition of a book
originally published in 1953, when slide rules were in full swing.
This edition explicitly acknowledges extensive contributions by his
son, Jamie Eves, as well as suggestions from numerous users of
previous editions, so the offending quote may not have been entirely
Eves' own doing. I do not have any earlier edition handy, so do not
know when the quoted passage was added, or what was said about the
comparative merits of slide rules and calculators in earlier
editions. But I am sure the quoted item would NOT have been in the
1953 or 1964 editions.
At a time when many mathematicians ranged from indifferent to hostile
toward any sort of computation -- with the result that the then newly
organizing field of Computer Science often found a home in
Engineering rather than in Mathematics -- Eves treated computation as
an important stimulus toward mathematical advances, thus important
for understanding the history of mathematics.
Eves also corrected the widespread error of thinking that the
logarithms Napier himself invented are the "base e" or "Natural"
logarithms. On pages 308-311 he shows that 1/e, rather than e
itself, is the base of the logarithms Napier calculated -- but
furthermore Napier himself was not using the concept of a "base" the
way we do.
The quoted item does, however, suggest a question about this group:
HOW MANY OF US DO, IN FACT, REGULARLY USE OUR SLIDE RULES FOR
My impression is that the group has a lot more discussion about how
to clean, polish, and display slide rules (for example) than about how
to perform any particular calculations on them. I, for one, have
slide rules both at home and in my office, but seldom use one of them
for a serious calculation. Even when an auto hitting an electric
pole shut down my computer recently, I took a break and did something
else, rather than continuing my calculations on a slide rule. The
slide rule calculation I do most often is 2x3=6, in demonstrations
for people unfamiliar with slide rules. Partly it is a matter of
slide rules not being suited for such tasks as finding eigenvalues of
a matrix or, for that matter, adding up a column of numbers (Yes, I
do have a Pickett with the X and Y scales). But even on slide rule
types of calculations I am likely to use a hand calculator or
computer. In this regard, slide rules are not the only things I
neglect: How often do any of us turn to our abaci, or sectors, or
nomographs, or books of mathematical tables, as aids in our everyday
calculations? Probably not even as often as we turn to our slide
rules. That's my guess. Has there been a group survey about how
often members actually use their slide rules for work-related
So, I, at least, wouldn't get too worked up over that quoted line
from Eves. I do agree with Joe's overall evaluation of the book --
that apart from this one item, it is excellent. --David
--- In sliderule@y..., "josephpasquale" <pasquale@u...> wrote:
> I may have made a mistake the other day in recommending the book
"An Introduction to the History of Mathematics" by Howard Eves, a
professor at U. Maine. I had not read the following until now (p.
313): "for years the logarithmic slide rule, hanging from the belt in
a handsome leather case, was the badge of recognition of the
engineering students of a university campus. Today, however, with
the advent of the amazing and increasingly inexpensive little pocket
calculators, NO ONE IN HIS RIGHT MIND WOULD USE ... A SLIDE RULE FOR
> Perhaps we should write a letter of indignation to Prof. Eves.
> PS: Outside of this, the book is excellent.
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