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The Man of Numbers: Fibonacci's Arithmetic Revolution Hardcover – July 5, 2011

4 out of 5 stars 43 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


“A must-read for anyone interested in the history of math, including undergraduates, mathematicians, and amateur historians.” ―Library Journal

“The author…is adept at explaining esoteric concepts at the heart of old arithmetic problems, allowing readers to peer into the mind of a medieval Italian businessman.” ―The Wall Street Journal

“A wonderful and vivid tale about the father of modern mathematics” ―Shelf Awareness

“Devlin illuminates one of the most remarkable and underappreciated episodes in cultural history… A surprising visit to a forgotten well-spring of modern thought.” ―Booklist

“Three cheers for Leonardo Pisano… A wonderful book for history-of-science buffs.” ―Kirkus Reviews

About the Author

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


Product Details

  • Hardcover: 192 pages
  • Publisher: Walker Books; 1St Edition edition (July 5, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1408815761
  • ISBN-13: 978-1408815762
  • ASIN: 0802778127
  • Product Dimensions: 5.8 x 0.8 x 8.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (43 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #860,109 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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 http://www.stanford.edu/~kdevlin/MathGuy.html.)

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": http://www.maa.org/devlin/devangle.html

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
A man went on business to Lucca, Florence, and then Pisa. In each city, he doubled his money, then spent 12 denari. At the end, he had no money. How much did he start with?

This and hundreds of other math-heavy financial questions were asked in Liber Abaci, or "The Book of Calculation", published in 1202 by Leonardo of Pisa, who became better known as Fibonacci. The book is led to the European popularization of 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1 0 -- the Hindu-Arabic number system.

Why? It was faster than the Roman method. The many questions were aimed at merchants. It was profitable. The merchants who used the methods in Liber Abaci were able to beat their competitors, and this caused the new methods to see widespread usage throughout Europe. Now, to a modern reader, Liber Abaci's six hundred pages of detailed calculations for how to make money conversions, tariff fees, and business transactions with a variety of obsolete currencies may seem like a tedious read. To a merchant of the era, some subset of the pages gave exact instructions for how to make more money.

The 13th century merchants of Pisa, Genoa, Milan, and Florence all took up the new mathematical system. At the time, there were other influential books for merchants. With Liber Abaci, they formed the initial core set for business math.

Forensic analysis of the other books was done a few years ago, and it revealed that Fibonacci was the author of the other influential books, as well.

Keith Devlin gives both the ancient and modern history. I had the privilege of seeing his presentation for The Man of Numbers at a recent math conference, and it was all a fascinating, gigantic story.

For the Kindle, there is a shorter companion book by the same author: Leonardo and Steve: The Young Genius Who Beat Apple to Market by 800 Years.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I recently bought a Kindle and this was the first eBook I bought for it. It was quite a disappointment. Although the contents itself is interesting (I would probably rate a printed version 4 stars), the fun was spoiled by the poor conversion to Kindle format. I'm not an expert on this matter, so I don't know if this is inherent to eBooks, or if it's just the editors' poor job.

Most annoying are:
- Transliteration of Arabic into Latin text is partially done with images, which cause line-breaks in the middle of words. The word 'Muhammad', with an underdotted 'h' occurs quite often and causes a lot of unnecessary white space.
- Mixed fractions become ambiguous because there are is no space between the whole number and the fraction (and the numerator is in the same size font). So 112/13 can mean either 'one hundred twelve thirteenth', 'one and twelve thirteenth' or 'eleven and two thirteenth'. This makes following the examples quite a challenge and distracts from understanding them.

- Occasional references to page numbers. Kindle doesn't use pages.
- In the beginning of the text the '2' in squared entities is not super-scripted. In later part this is done properly.
- In the illustration that explains the use of symbols for digits in terms of angles in the graph, the symbol for '6' contains 7 angles. (This might be true for the printed edition too).

In short: buy the paper version, it's worth reading (I agree with the previous reviewer). Even if the Kindle version is a bit cheaper, it's a waste of money.
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Format: Hardcover
No one needs to be informed that we have been through a calculating revolution in the past few decades, with a computer seeming to be on everyone's desk and in everyone's pocket. This particular calculating revolution, though, has been just one in a series, starting with notching tally marks on a bone around 35,000 years ago. Just as we take computers for granted now, so also we take for granted 0, 1, 2, and all the rest, but those are inventions as much as computers are, and they were a revolution in their time. It is a revolution that can be credited to a mathematician who is more famous for popularizing (he didn't invent) a series of numbers that bears his name, Fibonacci, but he now gets credit for introducing Arabic numbers to Europe in _The Man of Numbers: Fibonacci's Arithmetic Revolution_ (Walker & Company) by Keith Devlin, a mathematician who is well known as "The Math Guy" on NPR. Fibonacci didn't invent Arabic numbers, of course, and they are so much better a calculating system than the Roman numerals that preceded them that they would have been adopted eventually, but Fibonacci made it happen. Devlin's fascinating account shows how he did it, and how he didn't get credit for it, and how we now know him to be one of the most influential mathematicians who ever lived.

Although Devlin's book is supposed to be about its title character, it isn't a biography. Unless some librarian discovers a long-lost manuscript someday, Fibonacci will never have a biography. We know a little about him and his influences, all of which Devlin tells us, but details like his place and date of birth and death, family life, or what he looked like just don't exist. Fibonacci's father, a merchant, took him to north Africa when the boy was fifteen.
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