Poor Robin’s Prophecies

A curious Almanac, and the everyday mathematics of Georgian England

Author, astrologer, journalist, satirist, and ‘well-willer to the mathematics’, Poor Robin of Saffron Walden was a fantastic, yet invented, figure of British popular culture from the Restoration to the end of the Georgian period. Poor Robin’s Almanac first appeared in 1662, developing an enthusiastic following and long outliving its original creator to last until 1828.

Benjamin Wardhaugh tells the great story of Georgian popular mathematics – through Poor Robin’s remarkable life, from his humble beginnings as an almanac-writer through to best-selling stardom, controversy, and decline. Using the character, wit, and columns of Poor Robin, Wardhaugh explores the mathematics of ordinary people, from learning sums to using mathematics in weighing and measuring, in business, agriculture, map-making, and navigation.

This is a history of mathematics that is rarely thought about – creative, popular, and led by practical and social needs. It is centred on the ordinary people that used it. Their names remain little-known; their solutions have vanished along with the situations that required them; but their energy and ideas – as captured by Poor Robin – create a wonderfully rich picture of what mathematics can be, and has been.


‘Bring back the almanac! Wardhaugh’s fascinating account of Poor Robin’s Almanac persuasively reveals the power of the almanac to give mathematics a human face.’ Marcus du Sautoy


‘an inspired thesis …. While the likes of Poor Robin and his pamphlets may have disappeared long ago, mathematics remains a bedrock of our society. This wonderful book goes a long way in highlighting why.’ Jamie Condliffe, NewScientist

‘delightfully chatty and informative … [an] excellent, lively study.’ Patricia Fara, Literary Review

‘Excellent …. A book on the history of mathematics could have ended up dry and exclusive, yet Wardhaugh has written an engaging and entertaining book that never loses its audience.’ Steve Toase, Fortean Times