Finding Fibonacci: The Quest to Rediscover the Forgotten Mathematical Genius Who Changed the World, by Keith Devlin, Princeton University Press, Princeton, New Jersey, 2017. 242 pp., $29.95 (hardbound). ISBN 9780691174860.
Five out of five stars
While the telling has the feel of being soft, popular history, the consequences of the work of the man known as Fibonacci cannot be overstated. Modern people all around the world perform basic computations using the digits zero through nine placed in a specific order and then manipulated using basic, understandable algorithms.
It is generally lost on the modern world how revolutionary this was to society and how it made the modern financial structure possible. The new system originated in India and then was passed to Arab scholars and was in fact known to Europe, but was considered a topic of academic concern only. Fibonacci was almost singularly responsible for introducing the new system of computation to the merchants of the city states of Italy, which then spread to Europe in general and eventually the world.
This book is the story of Devlin’s travels and investigations into the life and role of Fibonacci and how his actions changed the world. It is a combination of an explanation of the value of the new way of doing things and Devlin’s actions in tracking down and viewing manuscripts from the time of Fibonacci. Although what he eventually sees are copies of Fibonacci’s revolutionary tracts, he expresses the due reverence for their significance in human history.
This is a math book for everyone with an interest in mathematics and history. There is little in the way of mathematical operations and they can be skipped with very little in the way of loss of understanding. It would be a perfect book for an interdisciplinary course in mathematics and the history of finance.