John Napier’s ingenious invention of logarithms decoded previously unexplored complexities within mathematics and inspired contemporaries, as well as future generations, to pursue and realise their own academic achievements in many fields of scientific inquiry. His later introduction of a series of calculating devices ensured mathematics was applied to common use and enabled the development of entrepreneurialism.

Napier’s dedication to the protestant faith is well-documented and it is suggested by some historians that he considered Plaine Discovery of the Whole Revelation of St John as his finest work. He remained dedicated to his parish of St Cuthbert’s, where he served for many years as a Church Elder, which is believed to be his final resting place. Furthermore, his passion for theology may provide an important clue as to where he visited in Europe during his formative years. 

The times in which John Napier lived were tumultuous, dark as well as sinister and many of his lesser-known inventions, including his machines of war and Archimedes Screw and Common Salts, were borne out as a direct response to impending invasion from the Catholic Spain as well as infertile lands as a result of years of civil war and English conquest.

Myth, mystery and intrigue are commonly associated with the man behind logarithms, whose eccentric behaviour led many within 16th century Scottish society suspecting him of being involved in the occult, witchcraft and necromancy. There is no evidence to support this theory and John Napier was never brought to trial under the charge of witchcraft.

Today, logarithms are an integral part of science, engineering and computing, thanks to the vision of John Napier and his legacy. Logarithms and calculating devices are embedded within the maelstrom of accelerated culture and, like the oxygen we breathe, a thorough understanding of the scientific composition is unnecessary in order to benefit from its application. 

The life of John Napier was extraordinary, it was a life beyond logarithms and bones.

Please scroll over our timeline images to learn more about the significant milestones of John Napier’s extraordinary life.

Extraordinaria Vita (An Extraordinary Life)

What he did was extraordinary:
A man who worked by himself
A stranger in a cosmos of numbers,
But guided by desire

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Edinburgh 101

Siegfried Sassoon's The Old Huntsman and John Napier's Bones recently featured in the popular Edinburgh's 101 Objects - a list of the city's most treasured objects brought together to celebrate Scotland's Year of History, Heritage and Archaeology.