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Numbers and the Making of Us

Counting and the Course of Human Cultures

Caleb Everett

ISBN 9780674979185

Publication date: 03/13/2017

“A fascinating book.”
—James Ryerson, New York Times Book Review

A Smithsonian Best Science Book of the Year
Winner of the PROSE Award for Best Book in Language & Linguistics

Carved into our past and woven into our present, numbers shape our perceptions of the world far more than we think. In this sweeping account of how the invention of numbers sparked a revolution in human thought and culture, Caleb Everett draws on new discoveries in psychology, anthropology, and linguistics to reveal the many things made possible by numbers, from the concept of time to writing, agriculture, and commerce.

Numbers are a tool, like the wheel, developed and refined over millennia. They allow us to grasp quantities precisely, but recent research confirms that they are not innate—and without numbers, we could not fully grasp quantities greater than three. Everett considers the number systems that have developed in different societies as he shares insights from his fascinating work with indigenous Amazonians.

“This is bold, heady stuff… The breadth of research Everett covers is impressive, and allows him to develop a narrative that is both global and compelling… Numbers is eye-opening, even eye-popping.”
New Scientist

“A powerful and convincing case for Everett’s main thesis: that numbers are neither natural nor innate to humans.”
Wall Street Journal


  • A fascinating book.

    —James Ryerson, New York Times Book Review


  • 2018, Winner of the PROSE Awards


  • Caleb Everett, Professor of Anthropology and Psychology at the University of Miami, is the author of Numbers and the Making of Us and Linguistic Relativity: Evidence across Languages and Cognitive Domains.

Book Details

  • Harvard University Press

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