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On Mental Calculation
by George Parker Bidder


(1 review, 3 customer ratings) ★★★★

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On Mental Calculation by George Parker Bidder

George Parker Bidder is one of history's greatest mental calculators. In the early 19th century he toured Britain as a 'calculating boy'. The amazing demonstrations he gave caught the attention of eminent scholars who offered to fund his education. Bidder went on to become one of the leading engineers of his time. His position as vice president of the Institution of Civil Engineers afforded him the opportunity to speak openly about his views on mental calculation in a lecture to fellow members of the institution. That lecture, given in 1856, is the subject of this document. In it, Bidder describes with considerable clarity his experiences as a mental calculator, explaining his methods for doing arithmetic and contrasting them with those of tradition. He covers basic arithmetic: addition, subtraction, multiplication and division; and also higher arithmetic: square root, compound interest, and so on.

Bidder stresses again and again that anyone can acquire a high level of skill in mental calculation and dispells the myth that one must be endowed with an exceptional memory. He is also critical of the way in which children are "taught numbers" and emphasises the need to appreciate that numbers are not merely strings of figures - a view perhaps even more pertinent in today's 'digital age'. There are very very few instances of celebrated mental calculators giving a detailed account of their ability. A gem of an article.

Robert Fountain

Lecture in 1856; 30 pages.
word count: 14119 which is equivalent to 56 standard pages of text

Reviewed by Anonymous
★★★★★   Date Added: Monday 12 May, 2008

This is a transcript of a speech given by the author about the methods he used to rapidly perform arithmetic without the aid of pencil and paper, or calculator. Note that I call it a 'speech' NOT a 'lecture'. The author rambles on and on about the subject, while imparting very little useful information per page. The book is not annotated in any way, save for writing out the arithmetic the author mentions. Finding a particular topic is a good way to waste your time. There is no outline, no table of contents, and the text seems almost designed to prevent easy navigation. I am positive that you could learn the authors methods from this work, but the effort of extracting the information from this text then learning it could be better spent on a book meant specifically to teach these principles, rather than merely talk about them at length.