From Shady Characters

Empire of the Sum: The Rise and Reign of the Pocket Calculator

The sun rises behind a pocket calculator, whose display reads "07734"
Empire of the Sum hardcover. (W. W. Norton, 2023.)

An entertaining, informative story about a technology that defined an era.

The hidden history of the pocket calculator — a device that ushered in modern mathematics, helped build the atomic bomb, and went with us to the moon –and the mathematicians, designers, and inventors who brought it to life.

Empire of the Sum: The Rise and Reign of the Pocket Calculator out now, published by W. W. Norton.

In hardcover
Buy the hardcover in the USA from Norton,, Barnes & Noble, Books A Million,, Hudson, IndieBound, Powell’s, Target or Walmart.

In the rest of the world, order from, The Book Depository or Waterstones.

Buy Empire of the Sum for your Nook at Barnes & Noble; for your Kobo at; for your iPhone or iPad at Apple Books; or for your Kindle at Amazon (USA) or Amazon (UK).
Audio book
The Eng­lish edi­tion of Empire of the Sum is avail­able as an au­dio book nar­rated by Elliot Fitzpatrick. You can find it at Kobo, Audible, or wherever else you get your au­diobooks.

Praise for Empire of the Sum:

His first book, “Shady Characters,” […] was praised by one reviewer as “erotica for grammar geeks.” To describe a calculator as “a symphony of solenoids and switches” (that would be an early, discarded model of what would become the Casio 14-A, which went on the market in 1975 for $1,347) may not be erotica, but it is good writing — and these days, the latter is rather more rare.

Keith Houston’s sprightly history aims to give the calculator the recognition it deserves as a stepping stone to the digital era […] all this is recounted with wry wit, plus numerous detours into mathematics, science and social history.

Walking readers from a 42,000-year-old counting aid to digital spreadsheets, the book provides a breezy mathematical history tour through the development of number systems, slide rules, mechanical calculators and microchips.

[An] enlightening history […] technical explanations are compellingly grounded in the people who invented them.

This thorough study explains complex technical advancements with wit and charm. Math lovers and history buffs will be equally entertained.

Fascinating […] a creation story of tech breakthroughs begetting first-of-their-kind digital calculators.