Book: The Man of Numbers – Fibonacci’s Arithmetic Revolution

Cover of Devlin book

The Man of Numbers – Fibonacci’s Arithmetic Revolution
Keith Devlin

The untold story of Leonardo of Pisa, the medieval mathematician who introduced Arabic numbers to the West and helped launch the modern era.

In 1202, a young Italian man published one of the most influential books of all time, introducing modern arithmetic to Western Europe. Leonardo of Pisa (better known today as Fibonacci) had learned the Hindu-Arabic number system when he traveled to North Africa as a teenager to join his father, a customs official for Pisa, then one of the principal mercantile centers of Europe. Devised in India in the first seven centuries of the Current Era and brought to North Africa by Muslim traders, the Hindu-Arabic system (featuring the numerals 0 through 9) offered a much simpler method of calculation than the then-popular finger reckoning and cumbersome Roman numerals.

Though written in scholarly Latin, Fibonacci’s book, Liber abbaci (The Book of Calculation), was the first European text to recognize the power in the 10 numerals, and to aim them at the world of commerce. It spawned generations of popular math texts in colloquial Italian and other accessible languages that allowed a wide range of people to buy and sell goods, convert currencies, and keep accurate records more readily than ever before—helping transform the West into the dominant force in science, technology, and large-scale international commerce.

Liber abbaci and Leonardo’s other books made him the greatest mathematician of the Middle Ages, earning him a personal audience with the greatest monarch of the era, the Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II, for whom he solved complex mathematical puzzles. Yet despite the significance and spread of his discoveries, Leonardo of Pisa has largely slipped from the pages of history. His name is best known today for the “Fibonacci sequence” of numbers he revealed, which appears with great regularity in biological structures throughout nature, and which some claim can predict the rise and fall of financial markets. Recreating the life and times, and the enduring legacy, of an overlooked genius, linking his achievements to our own time, Keith Devlin makes clear how central numbers and mathematics are to our daily lives.

Keith Devlin is a Senior Researcher and Executive Director at Stanford’s H-STAR institute, which he co-founded. He is also a co-founder of the Stanford Media X research network. Known to millions as NPR’s “Math Guy,” he is the author of more than twenty-eight books, including the highly successful The Math Gene. He lives in Palo Alto, California.

(Text from the publisher.)


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