Slide Rule Books

It seems to me that no slide rule site would be complete without a section discussing some of the available books on the subject. On this page, I have decided to list all the books currently in my collection, along with some editorial comments to hopefully help you separate the wheat from the chaff. I have divided this page into two main categories: modern books for collectors, and original slide rule instruction books. I generally haven't included rule-specific manuals on this page, as these are presented with the corresponding rule on my site when available. If nothing else, I hope you find the information here useful as a rough guide to the available slide rule literature.

Modern Books for Collectors

The following books are written specifically for slide rule collectors, and are all currently in press. However, given their somewhat esoteric nature they can be hard to find, so you might want to order them directly from the publisher. Links are provided below, where available.

A History of the Logarithmic Slide Rule and Allied Instruments:
And on the History of Gunter's Scale and the Slide Rule during the Seventeenth Century
by Florian Cajori

List Price: $25.00 U.S.
Format: Hardcover, 164pp.
ISBN: 1879335522
Publisher: Astragal Press
Most Recent Publication Date: October 1994
Rating: For Hardcore Enthusiasts Only

Originally published as several volumes in the 1920's, Cajori's classic has recently been reprinted and can still be ordered directly from the new publisher. This relatively short book is a heavily referenced and annotated history of the slide rule up to that time. The modern reprinting is an excellent resource for those more interested in the serious history of the slide rule as opposed to modern collecting.

Slide Rules: Their History, Models and Makers
by Peter M. Hopp

List Price: $35.00 U.S.
Format: Softcover, 310pp., ISBN: 1879335867
Publisher: Astragal Press
Most Recent Publication Date: May 1999
Rating: Excellent

Undoubtedly the best overall slide rule resource out there. Excellent first choice if you are just starting out, although Dieter von Jezierski's book might be a little more approachable for some. Understandably biased toward European slide rules, this book none the less features a comprehensive overview of the world-wide use and history of the slide rule, along with its major makers. It is particularly valuable for its extensive tables culled from the slide rule catalogs of known manufacturers, as well as its lists of patent dates for different countries. Simply put, most collectors equate "rare" with "not in Hopp" - it is just that good of a resource. What else can I say ... buy it!

Slide Rule Catalogue
by Herman van Herwijnen

List Price: 50 Dutch Guilders (about $25 U.S.)
Format: CD-ROM, PC or Mac
Publisher: Herman van Herwijnen
Most Recent Publication Date: Updated Continuously
Rating: Very Good

Compiled by Herman van Herwijnen with the help of the Dutch Circle of Slide Rule Collectors (Kring) and various slide rule enthusiasts from other countries, this CD-ROM represents an extensive catalogue of slide rules. At present (May, 2001) there are over 4200 slide rules described, about 1900 of which have multiple high quality, high resolution photos included. The program is updated continuously, and new rules and images are constantly being added. It uses a runtime version of the powerful FileMaker Pro database that allows you to enter your own data, including pictures, and lets you print the data in a variety of ways depending on your needs (e.g. full catalog, short lists, insurance lists, etc). A more detailed review is available on Ron Manley's Slide Rule site. The current price (check with Herman for updates) is 50 Dutch guilders plus 5 guilders postage for the UK and the rest of Europe and 10 guilders for the USA and Canada. It can be obtained by contacting Herman directly at Highly recommended if you're looking for good quality pictures of a wide range of rules, or a useful slide rule database program.

Slide Rules: A Journey through Three Centuries
by Dieter von Jezierski, Rodger M. Shepherd (Translator)

List Price: $23.50 U.S.
Format: Softcover, 136pp., ISBN: 1879335948
Publisher: Astragal Press
Most Recent Publication Date: October 2000
Rating: Very Good

A revised English version of von Jezierski's earlier classic, this book is also an excellent resource for slide rule enthusiasts. Although biased toward slide rules made in Germany (Dieter worked for Faber), this book is still a very approachable and easy to read introduction to the world of slide rules. Full of useful background information, and generally very well balanced between historical overview and modern collecting information. Nicely complements Peter Hopp's book, and a strong second choice for your bookshelf.

Original Slide Rule Instruction Books and Manuals

Although long out of print, most of these books can still be obtained from antique book dealers. As they were often frequently reprinted or updated, the publishing information presented below is far from comprehensive and is intended to serve only as a rough guide in helping you track them down.

An Easy Introduction to the Slide Rule
by Isaac Asimov

Format: Paperback, 158pp.
Publisher: Fawcett
Copyright: 1965
Rating: Fair to Good

Probably the most sought-after modern slide rule book! Not exactly a slide rule instruction manual per se, it is more of a general introduction to what the slide rule is and how it works (hence the title). I've always been a great fan of Asimov's work, and was therefore delighted to finally find a copy of this book at a reasonable price (they tend to range from exorbitant to outrageous, especially in hardcover). He begins by illustrating the concept of a slide rule with linear scales, to show how addition and subtraction work. Unfortunately, it is 30 pages into the book before he ever mentions a logarithm (and another 30 pages before he explains how to put log scales on a rule). While this is excellent for introducing why a slide rule works, the approach is somewhat dated for most modern enthusiasts who want to know how to use that old slide rule they've just discovered. A definite must for Asimov fans, but the casual reader should probably move on to one of the other books listed further down this page.

Slide Rule and How to Use It
by Calvin C. Bishop

Format: Softcover, 149pp.
Publisher: Barnes & Noble
Copyrights: 1947, 1952, 1955 (Third Edition)
Rating: Very Good

Very popular (and common) self-teaching slide rule manual, published by a major US bookseller and available in many versions. Has lots of illustrations and a special emphasis on practical problems and examples. Impressively, it includes special chapters on common US rules, like K&E's Polyphase and Log Log Duplex models, and the Post Versalog. Also has an unusually detailed section on how to determine the decimal point. However, it lacks an index and any discussion of accuracy or precision. Good choice if you want to learn how to actually use your rule.

The Slide Rule and Logarithmic Tables
by J.J. Clark

Format: Hardcover, 219pp.
Publisher: Frederick J. Drake & Co.
Copyrights: 1941 (Third Edition, 1952 printing)
Rating: Fair

Useful resource if you are looking for logarithm tables (book includes ten-place tables), but there are better slide rule manuals out there. The book is written in a fairly plain style with very limited illustrations. Available in various colour cloth covers (I have both purple and blue in my collection), and hard to find with the dust jacket shown above. I'd recommend moving on if other manuals are available.

How to Use the Slide Rule
by Coles Notes & Translations

Format: Softcover, 55pp.
Publisher: Coles Publishing Co. (Canada)
Copyright: None listed
Rating: Poor

Published in Canada, the Coles Notes series was much akin (identical?) to the infamous Cliffs Notes in the US. In fact, this printing appears to be an exact copy of the Cliffs Notes version, given its restrictive focus solely on US rules. For example, the book cites the two major US distributors of Hemmi slide rules (Frederick Post and US Blue), with nary a word about the Canadian distributor Hughes Owens. In addition to standard basic slide rule instructions, this manual also has an unusual section on how to choose a slide rule, along with various care and adjustment tips. This illustrates the major deficiencies of the book, as many of the recommendations are horribly biased (you don't even want to hear what they have to say about plastic rules), not to mention mutually contradictory in places. It appears to have been rather hastily cobbled together from promotional material from several of the major US manufacturers (mainly K&E, Dietzgen and Pickett). As final evidence of its confused origins, the conclusion section states, for the first time, the supposed main objective of the manual, namely "to prepare for district, regional, and state slide rule competition ... in the University Interscholastic League." As it turns out, the Texas-based UIL is still around and sponsors competitions among local Texas schools in various academic and athletic categories. Despite the apparent prominence of the UIL, I still don't see how it got smuggled into a supposedly general instruction book! Needless to say, a most disorganized collection of slide rule material, best suited to the dust-bin of slide rule history.

Les Logarithmes et leurs Applications
by André Delachet (part of the Que Sais-je? series, no 850)

Format: Softcover, 127pp.
Publisher: Presses Universitaires de France
Copyright: 1962
Rating: Good

Not exactly a slide rule book at all, this French language introduction to logarithms and their applications is part of the highly popular Que Sais-je? series of books focusing on major areas of science, philosophy, history and culture. Although the section devoted to slide rules is only six pages long, I am particularly impressed by the clear explanation of the mathematical underpinnings of the slide rule concept. Indeed, the emphasis throughout the book is on understanding mathematical relationships through formulas and visual depictions as opposed to standard rules. Nevertheless, I don't know if I would go so far as to agree with the author's blithe footnote about how detailed slide rule instructions aren't needed in this book because "they are always clearly explained in the accompanying sheet provided by the manufacturer" (my translation). Also has a very nice historical overview of the development of logarithms from Archimedes to Napier and beyond. Enjoyable, if a bit heavy going with all the formulas (hope you remember your functions classes!).

Versalog Slide Rule Instructions
by E.I. Fiesenheiser

Format: Hardcover, 115-119pp.
Publisher: Frederick Post Co. (US) or Hughes Owens Co. (Canada)
Copyrights: 1951, 1962, 1963 (Hughes Owens printings, 1954, 1963)
Rating: Very Good

Produced by the Post company for their Versalog slide rules and reprinted with permission by Hughes Owens, this manual is actually a good introduction to slide rule use in general. Sold only in the cloth version up above, emphasis in this book is on problem-solving and engineering applications. Updated versions of the manual feature minor changes relating to the rule and a new chapter on business applications (there's also a later book on the Versalog II that I don't have). The Canadian version of this book actually went through a number of reprintings, including a version prepared exclusively for the French Canadian market in Quebec. It is an exact translation of the standard English version, with even the Hughes Owens logo altered to read "Depuis 1900" instead of "Since 1900"! A fascinating variant, which I intend to discuss further on my upcoming Hughes Owens page. Stay tuned for more details ...

How to Use the Slide Rule
by Forum House

Format: Paperback, 100pp.
Publisher: Forum House Publishing Co. (Toronto, Canada)
Copyright: 1968
Rating: Fair

Despite the title, this book is not really a slide rule instruction manual but rather just a collection of practice exercises requiring a log-log decitrig style duplex slide rule. I suppose it could be considered unusual just for that, as it rare to see problems requiring exponent scales. Indeed, it first caught my eye because of the illustration of a Hemmi-made Versalog slide rule on the cover. Given the Canadian publisher, I presumed they had the Hughes Owens version in mind, although they state inside that any "modern" log-log duplex decitrig will do. Useful perhaps as an additional set of problems to be used in conjunction with a standard reference text (like the very good Versalog manuals above), but of limited value on its own.

Understanding the Slide Rule
by A.J. Hocking, M.A.

Format: Paperback, 114pp.
Publisher: Coles Publishing Co. Ltd. (Toronto, Canada)
Copyright: 1974
Rating: Very Good

Although designed for the same audience as the Forum House book presented above, this book is a far more useful practice manual. It is considerably more detailed in its discussion of the various uses of the duplex-style slide rule, and is far more rigourous in its descriptions of problem sets. More importantly, it specifically identifies differences among the major manufacturers, and spends quite a bit time on the Post Versalog and Pickett Model 4 rules. The Pickett discussions are particularly useful, given the non-standard use of base 10 log-log scales on these rules (a subject that comes up repeatedly throughout the book). Differences among K&E, Aristo, and Dietzgen rules are also identified in the trigonometry section. Frankly, this is undoubtedly the most useful set of advanced practice examples I've seen, applicable to a wide variety of rules. The only real shortcomings for a book of this sort is the limited background section (alas, they also confuse precision with accuracy) and lack of illustrations. But for someone seeking additional problem sets for a duplex rule, they would be very well served by this book.

The Slide Rule
by Lee H. Johnson

Format: Hardcover, 242pp.
Publisher: D. Van Nostrand Co.
Copyright: 1949 (1951, 1953, 1955, 1957 printings)
Rating: Excellent

My personal favourite among slide rule books. A thorough examination of slide rule use and function, written in an engaging style with plenty of actual pictures of slide rules (mainly high end K&E duplex rules). Has an excellent discussion of the factors limiting slide rule precision, although erroneously referred to as "accuracy" throughout the book. Plenty of practical examples for self-teaching, and appropriate for most rules although biased toward K&E models. I'm not sure if there were any later editions, as all copies I've seen have this copyright date and come in the solid plain green cloth shown above (the front of the book is blank, which is why I've only shown the binding scan). If you are going to pick up only one slide rule book, I would grab this one.

Slide Rule Practice
Published by W. Stanley & Co.

Format: Softcover pamphlet, 32pp.
Publisher: W. Stanley & Co. of Peru, Indiana
Copyright: 1938
Rating: Good for a Laugh

Not actually a slide rule manual, this is simply the companion practice example booklet for Lawrence Engineering's slide rule instruction book (the one that actually comes with a cheap Lawrence rule inside). I've included it here more as comic relief, given its self-congratulatory tone and amusing problem categories (two sample questions are included at the bottom of my Resources page for your entertainment). I particularly love the statement about how the examples "have been carefully selected and are representative of those likely to be encountered in everyday use." I wonder what all those poor air conditioning repairmen and Southern cotton planters did before this book came out?

The Slide Rule
by Rufus T. Strohm and Archibald Degroot (aka I.C.S. Staff)

Format: Hardcover, 59-92pp.
Publisher: International Textbook Company (I.C.S.) of Scranton, PA
Copyrights: 1923, 1930, 1939, 1948
Rating: Fair

These books generates a lot of confusion for antique booksellers. It seems the International Textbook Company released its manuals both separately and in combinations. The first scan is from the 1948 book by Strohm and Degroot called "The Slide Rule" on the spine and the title page (series designation N255) but is labelled on the cover as simply "International Library". The second earlier book by "I.C.S. Staff" (series designation 145) is a combination printing of three separate books, "Trigonometry", "The Slide Rule", and "Mechanics" each with their own copyright dates (this earlier printing of the "The Slide Rule" is copyright 1930 and is considerably abridged compared to the later version). That being said, I don't feel that either can be rated any higher than Fair as a reference textbook. There are better choices out there.

A Manual of the Slide Rule
by J.E. Thompson

Format: Hardcover, 220pp.
Publisher: D. Van Nostrand Co.
Copyright: 1930
Rating: Very Good

Another in a series of compilations, this book is actually entitled "Speed and Fun with Figures" and comprises three separate books, "Speed Arithmetic", "A Manual of the Slide Rule", and "Recreations in Mathematics". Thompson's original 1930 slide rule book was also updated in a second 1952 edition ("The Standard Manual of the Slide Rule") that many collectors feel is the standard slide rule reference text. Unfortunately, I don't have a copy of the revised edition, but even this early work has a lot going for it. The text is very lucid and clear, and there is an excellent historical overview that I wish I had when I compiled my Slide Rule Introduction page. Still, this earlier version is a bit behind the times, so until I see the revised version I think I'll stick with my recommendation of Johnson's slide rule book as my first choice (interestingly, they are both from the same publisher, Van Nostrand). I'll keep my eyes open for the revised edition ... stay tuned!

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Page last updated on September 15, 2002 -
All material © 1999, 2001 by Eric Marcotte, Ph.D.