What would make you write a book about writing a book you recently published on a 13th-century mathematician? When you’re Stanford University’s Keith Devlin (aka, NPR’s “The Math Guy”) and the mathematician is Leonardo of Pisa (aka, “Fibonacci”), the story of researching the first book, The Man of Numbers, becomes an incredible story in itself: Finding Fibonacci: The Quest to Rediscover the Forgotten Mathematical Genius Who Changed the World.
What makes Devlin’s story so compelling is that it involves many other people, multiple countries, 900+ years, and enough setbacks, twists and turns, courage, and fortitude to rival fictional adventure. Throw in the idea that Leonardo’s work helped revolutionize the world forever, parallels with another earth-shaking revolutionary, Steve Jobs, sprinkle well with the best-known number sequence of all time, and you have yourself a real page-turner.
I don’t want to spoil Devlin’s tale, but it’s impossible to resist mentioning the key notion that Leonardo gave us the mathematical tools needed to make much of the business transactions of the millennium that followed him conceivable and possible, as well as providing the framework for much more that we take for granted in every mathematically-based arena of modern civilization. Absent Leonardo’s genius, there’s no telling how long Europe would have remained hobbled by Roman numerals, counting boards, and mathematical computations reserved for a relatively small number of specialists. Instead, the European merchant community had put into its hands the perfect means to grow almost boundlessly.
Devlin’s book will serve to enlighten anyone fortunate enough to read it as to the pivotal role Leonardo played in the rise of the West out of its Dark Ages. By taking crucial ideas from India via the greatness of Islamic civilization, bringing them to Italy, developing practical methods for doing complicated calculations including those of vital importance to merchants and tradespeople, Leonardo of Pisa gave us the modern world. And Keith Devlin helps give this genius the long-overdue credit he deserves.
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