The Man of Numbers: Fibonacci's Arithmetic Revolution

The Man of Numbers: Fibonacci's Arithmetic Revolution

by Keith Devlin

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Overview

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 abbacis 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.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780802779076
Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing
Publication date: 07/05/2011
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 192
File size: 2 MB

About the Author

Keith Devlin is a Senior Researcher and Executive Director at Stanfords 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. NPRs "Math Guy," he is the author of more than twenty-eight books, including The Math Gene. He lives in Palo Alto, California.

Hometown:

Palo Alto, California

Date of Birth:

March 16, 1947

Place of Birth:

Hull, England

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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Man of Numbers 3.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 13 reviews.
hippypaul More than 1 year ago
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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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 anyone. 
LMHTWB on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The Man of Numbers is advertised as a biography of Leonard of Pisa (aka Fibonacci) and his importance in the development of algebra and/or arithmetic. While the book does talk about both, both topics are dealt with on a superficial level.Take for example the biography of Fibonacci. Because he lived in the 13th century and because there is almost nothing actually known of his life, Devlin explains some about what Fibonacci's education and upbringing might have been. While interesting in some areas, his discussion totally avoids the question of why did Fibonacci study Arabic mathematics and see it's importance. Others surely had the opportunity, but failed to grasp it.This brings up the second flaw in the book -- while Devlin says Fibonacci brought to Europe algebra, the Arabic numerals, and the use of zero, he never quite explains fully why it is important or what the math was at the time in Europe.While I enjoyed the book on one level, I was frustrated by the lack of details. Admittedly, the details for much of the book simply do not exist (such as the biography), which then begs the question, "Why write a bio of someone of whom little is known?" It did spark my interest in medieval mathematics, so for that I'm happy.If you have little background in math history and/or medieval history, this book would be interesting.
claude_lambert on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I read books on the history of math because I am interested in how people think, not specially in math. This is a very touching book on how arithmetic was introduced to Europe in 1202 by Fibonacci, an Italian we know almost nothing about. At the eve of what was to become "global trade", arithmetic came just on time. What made it possible was the introduction of the numerals 0 to 9 and place value. This, Fibonacci inherited from India via the Arab world: he made popular what we now consider basic knowledge all over the world. It could be a dry book, it is not: under the bright, intelligent, incisive style of Keith Devlin, there is a lot of love and emotion, the ambition to correct a wrongdoing of history: if you know Fibonacci's name, it is probably for the wrong reason. The book tells you a lot on how people thought: how do you solve problems when you do not have mathematical symbols? Devlin guides us through some problem solving examples from the Fibonacci's book of calculation, I found this entertaining. I live in Savannah GA where no kid knows how to divide by ten, because teachers have forgotten the importance of place value: this is the kind of book that would remind them what arithmetic is about: it is the first step to democracy.
drneutron on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Back in the 70s and early 80s, computers were these mysterious machines tended by a select few specialists. Then along came engineers who invented a much more efficient way to use computers through keyboards and mice and graphical user interfaces. But until people like Bill Gates and Steve Jobs came along to introduce this better way of computing to the masses, all these great improvements didn't make much difference.So what does this have to do with Leonardo of Pisa, a mathematician also known as Fibonacci who lived at the beginning of the 13th century? Well, at the time, pretty much everybody in Europe used Roman numerals, crude techniques for calculation, and counting tables for business, engineering, navigation, and everyday life. The Arabs used an adaptation of an Indian system using ten numerals and arithmetic essentially that of modern day. It was a much more efficient system, but only those European scholars who knew Arabic or had access to a Latin translation of Arabic works knew anything about it. Leonardo, though, spent time in his youth with his father as representatives of the Pisano business community in north Africa, and while there learned about the Arabic system. He was quite a talented mathematician, and wrote a text codifying and explaining this new system that became a widely regarded work and led to the eventual growth of mathematical education in Europe.A Man of Numbers is a small book, but one packed nicely with the delightful story of Leonardo and his time. Devlin spends time discussing the fascinating ramifications of the adoption of the Arabic system on commerce and education, nearly every aspect of life. He also takes on the question of Leonardo's influence on later writers of arithmetical and algebraic works. Of course, Devlin discusses the Fibonacci sequence as well, the one thing Leonardo is remembered for today, in spite of his wide ranging influence in the 13th and 14th centuries.Highly recommended, even for non-mathematical people. There's a bit of math here, but it's all very well explained!
BillPilgrim on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is a biography of Fibonacci, who is deemed responsible for the introduction of the Indo-Arabic number system into regular use by Europeans. It is somewhat hard to tell his life story, however, because there is so little that is really known about him. There is a lot of supposition in this book. But, the author makes the best case for concluding that it was his efforts that led to the use of our ten digit, base ten, numeric system, throughout Europe.Parts of the book are less interesting. I did not pay that close attention to the discussion of the Arabic pre-cursors to Fibonacci, and questions about what their real names were. But, I was sort of a math nerd in high school, so I found most of the math in the book to be interesting.
woakden on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I clearly remember puzzling out the relationship between the numbers in the Fibonacci sequence back in grade school, so I was vaguely expecting a bunch of interesting number puzzles from this book. Instead, what I got was a fantastic historical and mathematical tour of Italy in and around the 13th century, and an appreciation for the revolution caused by the introduction of the numerals 0-9 and the new way of doing arithmetic.While I had a vague idea that doing arithmetic with roman numerals was annoying, I hadn't really thought about how much easier it is to use 0-9. The introduction of the new math was totally revolutionary, affecting the complexity of trade in the newly emerging banking, and insurance industries. Like most brilliant new ideas, it was resisted (in some cases legislated against), and then eventually simply replaced the previous system to the degree that we don't even think about it anymore. Fibonacci is famous for publishing the first practical guides to using the new mathematical tools, and appears to be the direct ancestor of day's math textbooks. Devlin puts some translations of Fibonacci's solutions to example problems alongside the solutions that people today would be familiar with from a high-school math class, and it is shocking to see just how far we have come. If you're someone who doesn't like looking at equations, these are easy to skip past as they're simply for illustration...and I suspect that Fibonacci's approach to arithmetic might give you a whole new appreciation for them!This was a great book. Nice and short. Devlin's style is easy to read and entertaining, and I learned a lot. I'm definitely planning to investigate some of his other books.
JanesList on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This book is a biography of Fibonacci, although actually not that much is known about him. It reviews what is known, and then spends much time on the history of how he made the first major introduction of the Hindu-Arabic number system to the western world. It is a quick but rather bland read but it was interesting to see what numbers, arithmetic, and math in general, were like in the past. The best aspect of the book, I think, is that it shows us a time before symbolic algebra was invented, before our quick pencil and paper methods of calculation were well known, when even figuring out linear equations was a challenge. And the fact that we know these methods of calculation owes a lot to Fibonnaci, who did much more than describe a sequence about rabbits.As a math tutor, with this book I can now even more strongly share that idea that the basic math we practice is the winner-so-far in a long line of human trial-and-error about notation and algorithms.
pw0327 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I will have to admit, this is not what I expected. Kevin Devlin has gained popularity as a proselytizer of mathematics, and this book on Fibonacci seems to be the perfect vehicle for someone as erudite and learned in the mathematical arts as Devlin. But this book was a disappointment.I do not attribute it all to Devlin however. He chose a very difficult and hardly simple task. As Devlin himself admitted, there is scant history on Fibonacci the man, let alone his mathematics. Devlin must have had a devil of a time gaining proper perspective on the man's life and his ability as a mathematician. He has had to depend on mostly tertiary sources and a very active imagination to tell the story.In addition, the main contributions of which Devlin is writing about: the importance of the Arabic number system on the evolution of western commerce and science is something that we take for granted. the idea of how to represent numbers is such a large part of our DNA that the discussions, very well crafted discussions, seem to be obvious and rather a waste of breath. It is of course anything but a waste of breath, but it just seems that way. The other major issue is that Fibonacci was not the originator of the number system, he was the popularizer through his writings. And popularizers rarely get the respect that originators get.Lastly, Devlin is a mathematician, his attempt at history writing is admirable but not entirely rigorous nor is his writing of the history riveting. The mathematics was quite well written, but the history part was less than satisfying, partly due to the lack of original material on which to base the story on, and partly because the historical writing seem to be pedestrian and somewhat rushed. I have to hand it to Prof. Devlin for giving it the old college try, and there seems to be quite a bit of hard work and scholarship involved, it just wasn't a mathematical nor a history page turner.
hippypaul on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
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.A free copy of this book was provided for the purpose of review.
elenchus on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Devlin's The Man of Numbers effectively establishes two points:1 - Little biographical detail can be confirmed about Leonardo of Pisa (Pisano), but consensus finds him a capable mathematician who greatly influenced the practical aspects of arithmetic through workbooks aimed at teaching merchants a better way to do business. The primary text, Liber abbaci was published in 1202 and revised 1224, was widely popular, and recognised by mathematicians as well as royalty. (His nickname Fibonacci might be a derivation of a patronymic linked to a grandfather rather than his father.)2 - Prior to Liber abbaci, European / Western mathematics lacked the zero symbol for calculations (though the counting board did use a placeholder), a numeric system predicated on place value (a numeral's position indicating one, tens, hundreds, thousands), and single characters representing a given number (contra Roman numerals using multiple characters for a single number, e.g. VIII as 8). Fibonacci advocated the adoption of an Indo-Arabic numeric system, using the characters 0 - 9 in specified positions.Fibonacci followed up on the implications of his preferred system, bringing to light its many advantages beyond that of simply commerce. Logical and mathematical thinking both were aided by this system.//Devlin's story makes clear that mathematics depends upon a remarkable coincidence: manipulation of mathematical symbols (a kind of game) is mirrored in patterns evident in values and quantities "out there in the world" (natural reality). Using earlier systems, these useful manipulations simply were cumbersome or often impossible, and so we could not avail ourselves of the advantages. Fibonacci grasped this quickly, contributing to the advance of algebra while using the Indo-Arabic number system he adapted from merchants. He was not a one-trick pony.European merchants used counting boards not the abacus, the latter being Chinese and not much used in Europe. Counting boards were trays with depressions used for holding counters; depressions arrayed in columns, and counters could be marked or coloured to indicate orders of magnitude. An empty depression could hold the place of a zero, but there was no counter (symbol) for zero. Similarly, arithmetic usually relied upon finger / hand systems, with each digit standing in for a quantity and multiplication relying upon complex interactions of digits (fingers!). Finger reckoning worked quite well, but was constraining in comparison with the Indo-Arabic number system, took more training/skill, and left no documentation of the computations.Base 10 offers few advantages and some disadvantages over other options such as Base 12: 12 has more factors than 10. Of course, we have 10 fingers, 10 toes, and yet some few cultures used Base 12 or 60 despite having the familiar anatomical constraints.Paired with Tobias Dantzig's Number, Devlin offers a nice illustration of the number system we use, and suggests the important aspects of what seems commonplace. Look for other books to serve in a similar role as Devlin: an entertaining vignette within Dantzig's survey of mathematics and number.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago