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The Man of Numbers: Fibonacci's…

The Man of Numbers: Fibonacci's Arithmetic Revolution

by Keith Devlin

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Nora's book, July 2014
1 vote | cturner | Jul 27, 2014 |
1 vote | msladylib | May 16, 2013 |
A slim volume, but well worth reading. Little is known about Leonardo of Pisa's life, but much more is now known of his legacy and the era in which he lived. It also gives a glimpse how mathematical notation changed and became even more symbolic since his time. ( )
1 vote clmerle | Apr 2, 2013 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
The Man of Numbers, by Keith Devlin, is an account of Leonardo of Pisa, better
known as "Fibonacci". Leonardo is best known for the number sequence, the
"Fibonacci Numbers", named after him. (1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, ... Can
you guess the pattern?)

Far more important than this sequence, however, was Leonardo's introduction of
the familiar Arabic numerals to Europe. These are the numbers (0, 1, 2, 3, 4,
5, 6,...) that we use now for nearly everything, and they replaced the older
Roman numerals (I, II, III, IV, V, VI,...) that were in use in Europe prior to
the thirteenth century.

The unfortunate fact is that very little is known about Leonardo, apart from
some of his writing. This makes his story rather difficult to tell, so Devlin
makes up for the lack of hard data by describing life during Leonardo's time,
and speculating intelligently about various aspects of his education, travels
and motivations for his work. Most interestingly, he describes the tremendous
impact the introduction of Arabic numerals had on Western culture, and the way
ordinary calculation was so profoundly affected.

Devlin has a well-earned reputation as a master of telling mathematical
stories, and while I would not consider it his best work, this book does not
disappoint on that score. ( )
2 vote jmccarro | Oct 1, 2012 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
As a young man Leonardo of Pisa, aka Fibonacci, went into the family trading business, which required knowledge of arithmetic. Between the ages of 10 and 12 his parents sent him to a religious school to learn to read and write, and to learn the Roman system of arithmetic.

In Pisa at the time, and throughout Europe in the late twelfth century, religious schools were the only schools, and only boys were accepted as students. Wax tablets were used for used for writing, and the reading board, a type of abacus, was used in arithmetic using the Roman system, and its Roman numerals.

Many children today struggle to learn to add, subtract, multiply, divide, and take percentages. Think how much harder basic arithmetic was in Leonardo's time, using the Roman system of arithmetic. Leonardo's great contribution to the advancement of knowledge in the West was the introduction of the algorithms for basic arithmetic using the Hindu-Arabic system, with its ten place-valued digits.

Sometime in the 1180's Leonardo's father took a diplomatic post in the Islamic port of Bugia on North Africa's Barbary Coast. Leonardo followed him there a year later, and during his stay learned the Hindu-Arabic system of arithmetic.

In 1202 Leonardo completed the first edition of Liber Abbacci, a book that literally changed the Western World. No copies of this first edition survive, but three copies of the second edition, completed in 1228, still survive. Our current use of the Hindu-Arabic system for arithmetic in the West can be traced back directly to Liber Abbacci, and the multitude of later books more or less based on it.

The mathematical content of this book, as little as there is, is interesting. But the historical content overwhelms the mathematical, and most of the book is about life in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. I was looking to find more mathematics, but was not disappointed when I did not find it. Highly recommended for anyone interested in mathematics, or history, and especially for those interested in the history of mathematics. ( )
1 vote RGaryRasmussen | Mar 24, 2012 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0802778127, Hardcover)

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.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:17:52 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

"The untold story of Leonardo of Pisa, the medieval mathematician who introduced Arabic numbers to the West and helped launch the modern era."--P. [2] of dust jacket.

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