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.
A must-read for anyone interested in the history of math, including undergraduates, mathematicians, and amateur historians.” Library Journal
“The author…is adept at explaining esoteric concepts at the heart of old arithmetic problems, allowing readers to peer into the mind of a medieval Italian businessman.” The Wall Street Journal
“A wonderful and vivid tale about the father of modern mathematics” Shelf Awareness
“Devlin illuminates one of the most remarkable and underappreciated episodes in cultural history… A surprising visit to a forgotten well-spring of modern thought.” Booklist
“Three cheers for Leonardo Pisano… A wonderful book for history-of-science buffs.” Kirkus Reviews
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.
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.