The Man of Numbers: Fibonacci's Arithmetic Revolution [NOOK Book]


In 1202, a 32-year old Italian finished one of the most influential books of all time, which introduced modern arithmetic to Western Europe. Devised in India in the 7th and 8th centuries and brought to North Africa by Muslim traders, the Hindu-Arabic system helped transform the West into the dominant force in science, technology, and commerce, leaving behind Muslim cultures which had long known it but had failed to see its potential.The young Italian, Leonardo of Pisa (better known today as Fibonacci), had ...
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The Man of Numbers: Fibonacci's Arithmetic Revolution

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In 1202, a 32-year old Italian finished one of the most influential books of all time, which introduced modern arithmetic to Western Europe. Devised in India in the 7th and 8th centuries and brought to North Africa by Muslim traders, the Hindu-Arabic system helped transform the West into the dominant force in science, technology, and commerce, leaving behind Muslim cultures which had long known it but had failed to see its potential.The young Italian, Leonardo of Pisa (better known today as Fibonacci), had learned the Hindu number system when he traveled to North Africa with his father, a customs agent. The book he created was Liber abbaci, the "Book of Calculation," and the revolution that followed its publication was enormous. Arithmetic made it possible for ordinary people to buy and sell goods, convert currencies, and keep accurate records of possessions more readily than ever before. Liber abbaci's publication led directly to large-scale international commerce and the scientific revolution of the Renaissance.Yet despite the ubiquity of his discoveries, Leonardo of Pisa remains an enigma. His name is best known today in association with an exercise in Liber abbaci whose solution gives rise to a sequence of numbers--the Fibonacci sequence--used by some to predict the rise and fall of financial markets, and evident in myriad biological structures.One of the great math popularizers of our time, Keith Devlin recreates the life and enduring legacy of an overlooked genius, and in the process makes clear how central numbers and mathematics are to our daily lives.
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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble

When Fabonacci (c.1170-c.1250) acquired the open secret that revolutionized western arithmetic, he was just a young boy from Pisa traveling with his father in North Africa. It was there that he learned the Hindu-Arabic number system that he would come to realize was far preferable to the cumbersome system of Roman numerals. In 1202, he sat down to compose Liber abbaci (The Book of Calculation), a text that would facilitate business transactions and thus spur commerce of every conceivable type. Keith Devlin's The Man of Numbers recaptures the man behind the numbers we all take for granted.

Library Journal
Devlin, noted mathematician (Stanford Univ.) and author of more than 30 books (The Language of Mathematics The Math Gene), tells the fascinating story of Fibonacci's mathematical and cultural legacy. Leonardo of Pisa (1170–1240), called Fibonacci by a historian many centuries after his life, was inspired by the newly merging influences of Indian, Hindu-Arabic, and Western number systems. He not only introduced to the West the number sequence 0, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13…, whereby each number is the sum of the two that precede it, but helped shape the development of modern mathematics and commerce. In an entertaining style, Devlin explains the influence of Liber Abbaci (Book of Calculation), Fibonacci's 600-page work published in manuscript form in 1202. This tome helped make mathematics accessible to 13th-century Italian businessmen and other ordinary people. Fibonacci's introduction to commerce of the digits 0 through 9 prepared the stage for the development of modern symbolic algebra and hence modern mathematics. Devlin writes for a general audience, effectively introducing and explaining basic mathematical concepts, and includes scholarly notes and references. VERDICT A must-read for anyone interested in the history of math, including undergraduates, mathematicians, and amateur historians.—Ian D. Gordon, Brock Univ. Lib., St. Catharines, Ont.
Kirkus Reviews

Three cheers for Leonardo Pisano, nicknamed Fibonacci, heralded by NPR's "Math Guy" Devlin (Mathematics Education for a New Era: Video Games as a Medium for Learning, 2011, etc.)as the man who introduced Hindu-Arabic numbers (0 to 9) and rules of arithmetic to Europe in the 13th century.

The authorwrites that by far the most important contribution that Pisano native made to Western culture was not the Fibonacci numbers (the series in which each term is the sum of the two previous terms, e.g., 1,1,2,3,5,8,13—celebrated inThe Da Vinci Code) but the replacement of Roman numerals with the familiar 10 digits and place notation. That was a boon to merchants and bankers, moneychangers and tax collectors, just when the world was poised for the science and technology discoveries of the Renaissance. It all came about because Pisano's father, a customs official, took his teenage son with him to North Africa, where the boy learned about the numerical system that Arab traders had brought from India. Devlin makes clear that he was not a passive transmitter of new knowledge but a gifted thinker whose magisterialLiber Abaci(Book of Calculation), published in 1202, and later popularizations, as well as works in algebra and geometry, mark him as one of mathematics' great minds. As for the series, Pisano wrote that it was known early on to Indian scholars, and he stated it as a problem to determine how many rabbits a fertile pair would produce in a year "when it is the nature of them in a single month to bear another pair. And in the second month those born to bear also."

A wonderful book for history-of-science buffs that will also amuse math teachers, because the many problems and solutions included are simply medieval versions of the word problems that are the bane of many high-school students.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780802779076
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury USA
  • Publication date: 7/5/2011
  • Sold by: Barnes & Noble
  • Format: eBook
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 192
  • Sales rank: 714,366
  • File size: 3 MB

Meet the Author

Keith  Devlin

Keith Devlin is a Senior Researcher and Executive Director at Stanford's H-STAR institute, which he co-founded. He is also a Consulting Professor in the Department of Mathematics, and a co-founder of the Stanford Media X research network. NPR's "Math Guy," he is the author of more than twenty-eight books, including The Math Gene. He lives in Palo Alto, California.


Odds are, John Grisham doesn’t get interview questions like this: "If you could meet any mathematician, who would it be?"

But author Keith Devlin does, this time from Discover magazine as part of a January 2001 article coinciding with the publication of his book The Math Gene: How Mathematical Thinking Evolved and Why Numbers Are Like Gossip. His answer may go a long way toward explaining why he has managed to make the world of numbers not only understandable but also enjoyable to a segment of the population that can’t balance a checkbook without a net -- or backup from MIT.

“Isaac Newton,” Devlin told the inquiring minds at Discover. “He was a quarrelsome, egotistical person, but he also invented calculus. He did it, by the way, when he was a student at Cambridge. The Great Plague was going on, so the university was closed, and young Newton found himself without studies to do. Most 20-year-olds would think, ‘Whoopee! I’ll just have a good time.’ Newton went home and invented calculus.”

It is this same kind of passion for mathematics that has enabled Devlin, now the executive director of the Center for the Study of Language and Information at Stanford University, to persuade readers that arithmetic, geometry and calculus can be a bracing addition to the stack on the bedside table. In The Math Gene, he explains the “innate sense of number” that lives inside the human mind and how the development of mathematical thinking is closely bound to the development of language. In Goodbye, Descartes: The End of Logic and the Search for a New Cosmology of the Mind, he argues against the possibility of artificial intelligence, saying that computers are simply logic machines that cannot replicate the rational thought and communication that are part of human smarts. In his newest book, The Millennium Problems: The Seven Greatest Unsolved Mathematical Puzzles of Our Time, he explains a historic competition announced by a Cambridge, Massachusetts foundation in 2000: Anyone who could solve any one of seven of the most perplexing math problems of the current age would win $1 million.

In a 1999 review, the Economist noted that “Devlin succeeds both in giving us a glimpse of the internal beauty of the subject and in demonstrating its usefulness in the external world. The Language of Mathematics is lucidly written and richly illustrated, and remains accessible and enthusiastic throughout.”

On NPR’s Weekend Edition, where he has become a regular guest, Devlin is referred to simply as “The Math Guy,” or as host Scott Simon once put it “our white knight of the world of mathematics.”

And, going back to that provocative subtitle in The Math Gene, just how is math like gossip? “Mathematicians deal with a collection of objects -- numbers, triangles, groups, fields -- and ask questions like: ‘What is the relationship between Objects X and Y?. If X does this to Y, what will Y do back to X?’” he told Discover. “It's got plot, it's got characters, it's got relationships between them, and it's got life and emotion and passion and love and hate, a bit of everything you can find in a soap opera. On the other hand, a soap opera isn't going to get you to the moon and back. Mathematics can.”

Just don’t forget to carry the 1.

Good To Know

Devlin was the coauthor of the television special A Mathematical Mystery Tour, broadcast as part of the Nova series in 1984.

He once offered as proof of the human brain’s intuitive math skills the ability to judge speed and distance while driving and the ability to add up bowling scores.

Devlin once managed to explain the mathematical difference between a knot and a tangle to National Public Radio’s listeners.

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    1. Hometown:
      Palo Alto, California
    1. Date of Birth:
      March 16, 1947
    2. Place of Birth:
      Hull, England
    1. Education:
      B.S., King's College, London, 1968; Ph.D., University of Bristol, 1971

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments vii

Chapter 0 Your Days Are Numbered " 1

Chapter 1 A Bridge of Numbers " 11

Chapter 2 A Child of Pisa 27

Chapter 3 A Mathematical Journey 37

Chapter 4 Sources 47

Chapter 5 Liber abbaci 61

Chapter 6 Fame 87

Chapter 7 The Fibonacci Aftermath 103

Chapter 8 Whose Revolution? 119

Chapter 9 Fibonacci's Legacy-in Stone, Parchment, and Rabbits 143

Notes 159

Bibliography 167

Index 173

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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing all of 4 Customer Reviews
  • Posted November 10, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    A history of your math book

    In about the year of 1170 a man named Leonardo was born in Pisa. Opening a book he wrote in 1202 he referred to himself as Leonardo Pisano, Family Bonacci, from this Latin phrase filus Bonacci his present day nickname ¿Fibonacci¿ was coined by a historian in 1838. Fibonacci is usually remembered only in connection with the ¿Fibonacci sequence¿ however, in this fine book Keith Devlin carefully outlines his role as a towering figure in the movement of Hindu-Arabic numerals and arithmetic from the southern Mediterranean into Italy where it spread into Europe. The system was known in Italy before Fibonacci was born but it had was little used and not seen as being of value. It was the achievement of Fibonacci in his books to describe the system in terms of the problems encountered by merchants. He provided page after page of problems that involved trade, the measurement of land, the division of profits and the exchange of one form of money for another. Each problem was carefully worked out with the problem described in the text and the numbers presented in red in the margin. Fibonacci had written the first practical math textbook and it was copied over and over again by other authors. With real world examples such as ¿On finding the worth of Florentine Rolls when the worth of those of Genoa is known¿ he had written the first book on the Hindu-Arabic system that had popular appeal. The type of book that we all use to learn basic arithmetic is the direct descendant of this type of writing. The story of the development of math and math learning is very well told in this most enjoyable book. It in no way requires a math background or skills to read and enjoy. I recommend it to anyone who likes a good story of how our world came to be.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 18, 2013

    This book is poorly organized and the information is hidden in a

    This book is poorly organized and the information is hidden in a jumbled mass of words. It doesn't even talk about the
    the work of Fibonacci in detail until page 61. It is confusing and takes time talking about unnecessary topics.
    Overall this book gives very little useful information and that itself is hidden. I would not recommend this book to

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 16, 2012

    I liked this book. It did a good job of providing some history

    I liked this book. It did a good job of providing some history of the early 1200's, making it easy to understand how Liber Abbaci became so influential. In addition, I learned how difficult it is to do scholarly work on this book. My only suggested changes to "The Man of Numbers" are: (1) include a map, to make it easy to see the locations described in the book and (2) provide some side-by-side examples of math using Roman numbers and using Hindi-Arabic numbers, to make it easy to see how much easier it is to do math by using the latter.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 26, 2012

    No text was provided for this review.

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