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Leonardo and Steve: The Young Genius Who Beat Apple to Market by 800 Years [Kindle Edition]

Keith Devlin
4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)

Kindle Price: $2.99

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Book Description

In this short e-book (about 14,000 words), Stanford mathematician and NPR's "Math Guy" Keith Devlin Ph.D. presents the fascinating similarities between 13th Century mathematician Leonardo of Pisa, more commonly known as Fibonacci, and Steve Jobs, the 20th Century founder of Apple computers.

In 1202, 32-year old Italian Leonardo of Pisa 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. Leonardo 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.

In "Leonardo & Steve," Devlin shows the uncanny parallels between Leonardo's arithmetic revolution that took place in Tuscany in the Thirteenth Century and the one that began in California's Silicon Valley in more recent times. It is a story about the personal computing revolution that occurred in the 1980s, but with the novel twist that it was actually history repeating itself.

Product Details

  • File Size: 1239 KB
  • Print Length: 53 pages
  • Publisher: Keith Devlin; 1 edition (July 7, 2011)
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B005BRR2TY
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Not Enabled
  • Lending: Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #268,811 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great companion book to Man of Numbers July 18, 2011
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
The Arabic numerals (1234567890) are much easier to work with than Roman numerals (MDCLXVI). Fibonacci saw this in his travels as a young entrepreneur, and wrote several books to try to get the superior technology adopted.

The Xerox Alto was much easier to work with than any other computer of its time. Steve Jobs saw this in his travels as a young entrepreneur, and developed a company to make use of the GUI interface when Xerox refused to.

This smaller book contains much of the core material of The Man of Numbers: Fibonacci's Arithmetic Revolution. Of particular note: the very recent forensic study of the Abacus books, which were responsible for the teaching of (1234567890) throughout Europe, and which became the core of modern business practices. Some of Fibonacci's books have been lost to time, and the authorship of the Abacus books was unknown, until recently. Fibonacci wrote the first ones, and they were widely copied.

The author finds many parallels between Jobs and Fibonacci in their respective revolutions.

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22 of 25 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Author looking for feedback on this July 15, 2011
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
As an author, the short, cheap, e-book format is new to me, and I think this is the first ever popular mathematics e-book. So please let me know what you think. In addition to knowing your views of the content, I'm eager to know your reaction to the format and the price. Many fascinating stories about mathematics can be told in 15,000 words, so if authors like myself can get it right, this could be a major part of the future of popular mathematics writing. Thanks for your feedback. (Oh, and by the way, Amazon requires reviewers give a rating, so of course I gave it five stars. But in the case of my review, you should know I am biased!)
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Remember learning how to do arithmetic by hand? Carrying when adding, borrowing when subtracting, doing long division? Those algorithms are more amazing than you think. They were the iPhones of 13th century Italy, and every merchant in Pisa and Venice wanted to know them, just like everyone wants the newest, fanciest smartphone today (or, the original Macintosh in 1984).

I am giving 5 stars to both this book and the concept of short, "price-of-a-latte" math books. Devlin does a wonderful job telling the parallel stories of Leonardo of Pisa (known to most as Fibonacci) and Steve Jobs. If you're old enough to have seen how personal computers has transformed society worldwide, you're in a good position to appreciate what Leonardo did in 13th century Italy. This is a short and fascinating book. It's only a few dollars and you'll get far more out of this than tomorrow morning's fancy Starbucks drink.

I'd love to see more focused, fascinating (and relatively cheap) books like this from good mathematical writers like Devlin.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Entertaining, and Educational January 19, 2012
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Reading Leonardo and Steve: The Young Genius Who Beat Apple to Market by 800 Years, by Dr. Keith Devlin is easy, entertaining, and educational. Those are three qualities that make Leonardo and Steve a good choice for a leisure-minded non-fiction enthusiast like me. You don't have to be a math genius to understand this book either. In my case, that's a good thing!

The crux of this book is the parallel between Steve Jobs and Leonardo Pisano; how they seized upon, changed, and communicated the inventions of other's and sparked financial and personal computing revolutions. Leonardo (also called Fibonacci) did this in 1202 by writing the book Liber Abbaci which introduced Hindu-Arabic numbers to the businessmen of Pisa, and explained how these numbers made accounting much easier than the Roman numerals they were using.

All of that would be interesting in its own right, but to me as a former elementary school teacher and participant in the world of gifted education, there are some other random things about Leonardo and Steve's stories that really strike me.

Dr. Devlin briefly mentions that after the publication of Liber Abbaci, arithmetic schools sprung up over Italy, where maesti d'abbaco would teach students the new Hindu-Arabic methods. He says that these schools "followed a specified syllabus, typically comprised of reading and writing in the vernacular, arithmetic, geometry, bookkeeping, and occasionally navigation." (Loc 274, 29%) A specified syllabus? That almost sounds like Common Core Standards from the Middle Ages!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Very enjoyable and enlightening! December 28, 2012
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
I heard Professor Devlin speak at a conference about this book. I decided that this book should be purchased and read after his talk. The book lived up to my expectations!
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More About the Author

Dr. Keith Devlin is a mathematician at Stanford University in California. He is a co-founder and Executive Director of the university's H-STAR institute, a co-founder of the Stanford Media X research network, and a Senior Researcher at CSLI. He has written 31 books and over 80 published research articles. His books have been awarded the Pythagoras Prize and the Peano Prize, and his writing has earned him the Carl Sagan Award, and the Joint Policy Board for Mathematics Communications Award. In 2003, he was recognized by the California State Assembly for his "innovative work and longtime service in the field of mathematics and its relation to logic and linguistics." He is "the Math Guy" on National Public Radio. (Archived at

He is a World Economic Forum Fellow and a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. His current research is focused on the use of different media to teach and communicate mathematics to diverse audiences. He also works on the design of information/reasoning systems for intelligence analysis. Other research interests include: theory of information, models of reasoning, applications of mathematical techniques in the study of communication, and mathematical cognition.

He writes a monthly column for the Mathematical Association of America, "Devlin's Angle":

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