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I'm trying to find good books on the history of mathematics, dating as far back as possible.

There was a similar question here Good books on Philosophy of Mathematics, but mostly pertaining to Philosophy, and there were no good recommendations on books relating specifically to Math History.

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I can't vouch for it but I've heard that Mathematics and its History: books.google.com/… is highly recommended. –  knucklebumpler Apr 5 '11 at 7:41
A good book is Weil Number Theory: An approach through history from Hammurapi to Legendre –  quanta Apr 5 '11 at 8:21
I fully agreed with quanta. –  awllower Apr 5 '11 at 8:45
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7 Answers

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It rather depends on what level you are aiming at. I found Morris Kline's Mathematical Thought from Ancient to Modern Times very impressive.

If you are prepared to stop in the 19th century, I enjoyed A Short Account of the History of Mathematics by W. W. Rouse Ball when I was young, blowing the dust off an inherited copy WWRB had given my grandfather.

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I can vouch for the Stillwell's one : Mathematics and Its History, and here's why: unlike most math history books which are, well, focused on the history alone, Stillwell's focus on the math.

That is, it's not about the mathematicians, but about the mathematics. Each chapter deals with a math topic (be it pythagorean triples, analytic geometry, etc) and it even has exercises to help you get an idea on what the main involved ideas are.

each chapter has a supplement showcasing one or two biographies about the main mathematicians involved on the chapter's subject

But the real feature, again, it's that the book is structured focusing on the mathematics history, not the mathematicians history (hence its title)

There's also an oldie but goodie: 2 volume set Eves' Great Moments in Mathematics , part of the Dolciani Mathematical Expositions series vol1 : before 1650 vol2 : after 1650 here each chapter is devoted to help you know about a specific mathematical breakthrough and why it's important on the mathematics development

This one starts talking about the Ishango Bone, which is dated around 10 tousand years ago, given you want to go far back as possible

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Mathematics and Its History by John Stillwell is a nice one.

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In my undergrad, we used Burton's History of Mathematics: An Introduction (the 5th edition of this). We also had as supplemental reading Dunham's excellent Journey Through Genius. This one is inexpensive and was an enjoyable read.

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+1 for Dunham's Journey Through Genius. Also of note is his The Mathematical Universe. –  Byron Schmuland Apr 6 '11 at 2:43
+1 for Dunham's Journey Through Genius as well, read it in my high school (Chinese translated version), and chose math to be my major...I am mostly stunned how beautifully Euler derived $\sum^{\infty}_{n=1} 1/n^2$. I still remembered the feeling finishing reading that part. –  Shuhao Cao Jun 15 '13 at 3:03
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As far as I know, Boyer's books (e.g. A History of Mathematics or The History of the Calculus and Its Conceptual Development) are classics. I read the first one some years ago and found it very interesting, easy to read and complete; its only flaw is that the history stops at the first half of 1900. In order to overcome this problem, I bought and read Odifreddi's La Matematica del '900 (i.e "Mathematics of the 20th century"): it is a good book, but I don't know if it has ever been translated in English.

Another good read, though a bit too specific, is Heat's History of Greek Mathematics (1921, two volumes): actually, I find this book very good, for its wonderful mix of mathematical rigor and literary style.

Todhunter's A history of the progress of calculus of variations during the nineteenth century (1861) is enjoyable, but (for obvious cronological reasons) it lacks an account of the modern Calculus of Variations, based on the direct methods; some developments can be found in Goldstine's A history of the calculus of variations from the 17th through the 19th century (1981).

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Odifreddi's book was published in English as The Mathematical Century by Princeton University Press in 2004: press.princeton.edu/titles/7789.html –  Byron Schmuland Apr 6 '11 at 2:39
@Byron: Thank you. I looked for a translation on amazon, but I wasn't able to find it. –  Pacciu Apr 6 '11 at 9:01
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I recommend very much

Felix Klein: Development of Mathematics in the 19th Century

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In my opinion, A History of Mathematics by Victor J. Katz is the best single volume which covers mathematics in various civilizations from ancient to modern times. It is based on careful attention to original sources.

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