John Napier

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Napier, John

(nā`pēr, nəpēr`), 1550–1617, Scottish mathematician and theologian. He invented logarithmslogarithm
[Gr.,=relation number], number associated with a positive number, being the power to which a third number, called the base, must be raised in order to obtain the given positive number.
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 and wrote Mirifici logarithmorum canonis descriptio (1614), containing the first logarithmic table and the first use of the word logarithm. His Rabdologiae (1617) gives various methods for abbreviating arithmetical calculations. One method of multiplication uses a system of numbered rods called Napier's rods, or Napier's bones; this was a major improvement on the ancient system of counters then in use. In 1619, after Napier's death, his Mirifici logarithmorum canonis constructio, which gave the method of construction of his logarithms, was published by his son Robert and edited by Henry BriggsBriggs, Henry,
1561–1630, English mathematician. He was the first professor of geometry at Gresham College, London (1596–1619), and Savilian professor of astronomy at Oxford (from 1619).
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. Napier introduced the decimal point in writing numbers. Napier was also an outspoken exponent of the Protestant cause. His religious writings include A Plaine Discovery of the Whole Revelation (1593), the earliest Scottish interpretation of the scriptures.
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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Napier, John


Born 1550 in Merchiston, near Edinburgh; died there Apr. 4, 1617. Scottish mathematician; inventor of logarithms.

Napier studied at the University of Edinburgh. He had mastered the fundamental concepts of logarithms before 1594; however, his Mirifici logarithmorum canonis descriptio . .. (Description of the Marvelous Canon of Logarithms), in which he set forth this knowledge, was published in 1614. This work contained a definition of logarithms; an explanation of their properties; tables of the logarithms of sines, cosines, and tangents; and applications of logarithms to spherical trigonometry. In Mirifici logarithmorum canonis constructio . .. (Construction of the Marvelous Canon of Logarithms), published 1619, Napier set forth the principles for calculating the tables. The kinematic definition of a logarithm given by Napier is essentially equivalent to the definition of a logarithmic function in terms of a differential equation. Napier also discovered a number of formulas for solving spherical triangles that can be conveniently given in logarithmic form.


Mirifici logarithmorum canonis descriptio; ejusque usus, in utraque, trigonometria, ut etiam in omni logística mathematica . . . explicatio. Edinburgh, 1614.


Istoriia matematiki, vol. 2. Moscow, 1970.
The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.