The Construction of the Wonderful Canon of Logarithms

by John Napier
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John Napier is best known as the discoverer of Logarithms. In the late sixteenth century, further advances in science demanded a less complex method of numerical computation. In response, the Scottish mathematician John Napier (1550-1617) developed “a small table by the use of which we can obtain a knowledge of all geometrical dimensions and motions in space, by a very easy calculation.” Napier’s logarithmic table was first presented in 1614 in the Mirifici Logarithmorum Canonis Descriptio, the explanation of its construction, however, did not appear until 1619, in the posthumously published volume Mirifici Logarithmorum Canonis Constructio. The Constructio actually preceded the Descriptio but was held back from publication by Napier, who awaited the Descriptio’s reception. Napier’s son Robert brought it to press.

In the introduction to the English edition of the Constructio, The Construction of the Wonderful Table of Logarithms (1889), translator William Rae Macdonald writes that it is “the most important of all Napier’s works, presenting as it does in a most clear and simple way the original conception of logarithms.”


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