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VINE VOICEon July 5, 2011
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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on August 18, 2011
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.

Also:
- 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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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. There, he learned the Arabic numbers and spent a decade in training from mathematicians. After he returned to Pisa, he published his masterwork in 1202, _Liber abbaci_, "Book of Calculation," a 600-page introduction to a better way of working with numbers. The book was not addressed to mathematicians, but to merchants. Fibonacci showed how what he called the "Indian figures" could be used to write any number, the ease with which they could perform the four basic calculator functions, how fractions could be used, how square and cube roots could be taken, and more. Quickly a merchant who insisted on using Roman numerals and counting boards was surpassed in efficiency by those who mastered the new system. The book was an instant success, so that Fibonacci issued different versions of it, and also others got into the act. In the next century, maybe a thousand or more similar manuscripts were written in Italian vernacular on the same themes. Textual analysis of these works all show that they were clearly beholden to Fibonacci's original.

In a final chapter, Devlin writes about the Fibonacci Numbers; if you know Fibonacci's name, it ought to be for the Arabic numbers you see every day, but probably it is due to a little problem he put into _Liber abbaci_, about rabbits who breed through generations, and how to count the number of pairs in each generation. It is the series 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, and so on, each number being the sum of the pair preceding it. It has remarkable mathematical properties, and the numbers show up in nature with surprising frequency. Fibonacci, however, didn't originate the series, and his name was attached to it only in the 1870s. They are interesting in their own right, but they aren't really Fibonacci's. Appreciating Fibonacci for his real achievement is the aim of this book, and Devlin presents a convincing argument to show that Fibonacci did nothing less than start the modern arithmetic revolution.
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on January 8, 2012
After reading the 192 pages of this book about Fibonacci, it's clear that everything we know about Fibonacci could fit into a page and half. We know what he wrote, where he was born, that he went to North Africa as a boy and not a whole lot else. This book is almost a placeholder for a biography. Even a lot of the math (which we do know) was skipped over. Too bad, it seemed like an interesting topic.
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on November 1, 2011
As some reviewers have already pointed out, this book really concentrates on history of mathematics rather than mathematics itself. In fact arithmetic is a better term to describe the types of problems addressed. The book's main focus is the impressive work of Leonardo of Pisa, also known by the nickname of Fibonacci, and his books (particularly Liber Abbaci); these were important contributions that illustrated how to solve important practical (mainly arithmetical) problems of the times. Although, the author asserts, none of Fibonacci's original works have survived the centuries, they have been transcribed - some of these transcriptions being still in existence today. They have also been borrowed from by some later (even some contemporary) writers. Consequently, the author uses a bit of forensics in an effort to determine whether the ideas/techniques presented in some of these later works were original or whether they came from an earlier source and if so, which one. It turns out that many of them likely came from Fibonacci. Very little is known about Fibonacci's life, but his achievements were ground-breaking and have left their marks.

The author's writing style is clear, detailed, analytical and often quite engaging. I would classify this book as closer to a scholarly work than to a popularization aimed at a very broad readership. Consequently, I think that readers who are serious students of the history of mathematics would likely appreciate this book the most. Nevertheless, anyone can learn a great deal from reading this intriguing book.
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on January 10, 2013
This book is an immensely enjoyable read, and nobody needs to be a mathematician to understand it. There is some maths in it, but you don't miss the message if you skip those parts. It isn't so much a biography of Leonardo of Pisa, nicknamed Fibonacci, since very little is known about his life. But it is an engrossing and well-told story of how the numbers and arithmetic operations that have become such an essential part of our lives came to us, from India, via Muslim scholars and then Leonardo, to us. It is also part history of the teaching of maths. The most interesting part, for me, was not the Rabbit Problem which gave rise to the famous Fibonacci sequence (where Devlin takes the opportunity to bust some pop-culture myths), but rather, how humans first developed the concept of zero and how to do math with it. Highly recommended.
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on December 25, 2011
Very often, an expert in his/her field is not also gifted with the ability to write in an interesting manner in order to share the special knowledge he/she has gained in their years of study, but Keith Devlin has written a very readable and informative book on the introduction, in 1202, of numbers to the Western world. Even though details of Fibonacci's life are sketchy, the story is how he brought math as we know it to Europe, and Devlin does a fine job in this exhaustively researched little book. I'm an accountant, and it's hard to believe we didn't have numbers before 800 years ago! I wonder whether the Rennaisance would have flowered if we hadn't had numbers?
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on August 30, 2011
The writing style is pleasing and the story intriguing, but some parts repeated a couple of times. Overall, it was a good buy.

EDIT: I was disappointed to not see mention of the critical mistake Fibonacci made and from which the world has since suffered: he didn't reverse the digit order. The arabs from which he learned the numbers wrote (and write) prose right-to-left and the numbers also, meaning the least significant digits came first ("little endian" in computer terms).

When Fibonacci brought the numbers to the western world he kept the same digit order as his source, which means we now write numbers most significant digit first. One of the practical implication is that formatting column of numbers in the middle of prose is awkward as we need to pad them to the greatest length.
Example

Sales by month
Jan $1000
Feb $20000
Mar $890005

where we could have been writing

Sales by month
Jan $0001
Feb $00002
Mar $500098
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on October 12, 2011
Although the subject is inherently interesting to those with an inclination to history of science books and although the author appears to have researched the subject thoroughly and writes well, this book falls short of expectations. The problem is that almost nothing is known about Fibonacci, the man himself. So there is little that is personal to Fibonacci (or Leonardo Pisano, as he would have been known during his life).

The book gives good coverage to what life in the time of Fibonacci must have been like and to the impact of his translating the works in Arabic into Latin and Italian and thus introducing the 13th century Europeans to advanced mathematical thinking. The book is a quick read (particularly if you don't try to read through and solve some of the sample problems!).

Ironically for a book about a man who translated math from one language to another, the author says on page 20 (to illustrate that there are many ways to represent the number three) that "three" in French is "tres" and in Spanish it is "tre." (It's "trois" and "tres," respectively.)

So if you're a fanatic for math history, this book will be fine. Otherwise, temper your expectations.
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on July 30, 2015
Most of us know Fibonacci through his inimitable series: 1,1,2,3,5,8,13,... That is how we are introduced to the man. Prof. Devlin takes us beyond Fibonacci to show us the real man, Leonardo Bonacci, the real Italian mathematician who we know simply as Fibonacci. Fibonacci was born in Pisa to a well-to-do Italian merchant who imbued the love of numbers in the boy. As a learned (young) man of numbers, Fibonacci wrote Liber Abaci, a book that would become the blueprint for mathematical texts. In Liber Abaci, Fibonacci introduced the Hindu-Arabic numeral system to the western world with its place values and the all too powerful 0 (zero). Until then, addition and subtraction in the western hemisphere constituted of painfully indicating various vertical and horizontal marks on top of the clunky Roman numeral system. Liber Abaci revolutionized mathematics as never before: it posed and solved simple problems as well as complex ones that today would be called optimization problems.

This is a short, but simply fascinating book. If you are at all interested in mathematics, you must read this little gem. (June 2015)
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