Sunday, November 27, 2011

The Man of Numbers: Fibonacci's Arithmetic Revolution by Keith Devlin – review

The story is extraordinary. Even as the world was mired in medieval darkness, with the crushing hand of religion blocking all scientific inquiry, a lone genius named Fibonacci appeared on the shores of the Mediterranean. Through magnificent creative struggles, he discovered a number with near magical properties.

It is an infinite sequence that begins 1.61803… and is sometimes known as the Golden Ratio; sometimes as the Divine Proportion. Mathematicians symbolise it by the Greek letter phi, and it can be used to produce the most beautiful rectangle humans can recognise: one that already was understood when the Parthenon was designed and, in times to come, would be incorporated by Leonardo da Vinci in his greatest works of art. It appears today in the proportions even of the humble credit card.

Or so the internet, and many popular books, would have us believe. In fact, the man referred to in so many accounts, originally Leonardo of Pisa (Fibonacci came long after his death, from his family's name), was not much of a genius. Nor was he living in an age of ignorance. Nor does the shape that came to be associated with his name actually appear in Greek sculpture, or Renaissance art, or our Mastercards today.

Click here to read this article from The Guardian