Napier's logarithms, 1614.
© Science Museum / Science & Society Picture Library
The title page from 'Mirifici logarithmorum canonis descriptio' (The wonderful canon of logarithms) by John Napier, Baron of Merchiston (1550-1617), published in Edinburgh in 1614. Napier spent 20 years on the research that would lead to his discovery of logarithms. This brilliant new method made the manipulation of large calculations simpler by adding or subtracting the index of two numbers and looking up the result in tables. Here he introduces them to the world in the first isue of the first edition, one of the selection of tables collected by the British mathematician and computing pioneer Charles Babbage (1791-1871), who was a fastidious analyst of tabular error.