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Leonardo and Steve: The Young Genius Who Beat Apple to Market by 800 Years

Keith Devlin
Publication Date: 
Electronic Book
[Reviewed by
Charles Ashbacher
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One of the foundations of mathematics and computer science is the concept of the pattern. It is based on the (re-)use of a theme and it was largely taken from architecture. In this book, Devlin relates the introduction of the Hindu-Arabic numerals to Western Europe around the year 1200 CE to the introduction of the Macintosh computer in 1984.

Leonardo of Pisa, more commonly known as Fibonacci, wrote the Liber Abaci, in which (among many other things) he introduced the much more efficient Hindu-Arabic numeration system to the Mediterranean commercial area. This revolutionized the operations of computation and it is not an exaggeration to say that modern commerce could not have evolved without the more efficient methods of computation.

Steven Jobs was the primary driving force in the development of the Macintosh computer, the first computer system for the masses that used a WIMP (Windows, Icon, Menu, Pointing) user interface. Such a system was necessary to allow the average person to use computers easily and efficiently. It is also not an exaggeration to say that computers could not have become a widely used appliance without such an easy to use interface. Without that, modern commerce as we know it could not have arisen.

Although he relates to two events via a pattern of computational revolution, Devlin himself is also clear in pointing out that the connection should not be extended too far. Nevertheless, given the fact that children in early elementary school generally easily handle basic arithmetic and using computers, it is good to be reminded that there was a time when it was not common. Devlin does an excellent job of explaining the why and how of these revolutions.

Devlin has chosen to publish this essay as an e-book via Smashwords. In my opinion, short historical novellas such as this are the perfect example of what should be presented in e-book format. Instructors can assign the material without inflating the cost to the student and they are short enough not to strain the eyes of people who find extended reading of e-books difficult. 

Charles Ashbacher splits his time between consulting with industry in projects involving math and computers, teaching college classes and co-editing The Journal of Recreational Mathematics. In his spare time, he reads about these things and helps his daughter in her lawn care business.

Prelude: The Statue

Chapter One: WYSIWYG and WIMPS

Chapter Two: Game Changer

Chapter Three: Right Time, Right Place

Chapter Four: The Book of Calculation

Chapter Five: The Revolution

Chapter Six: The Secrets of Their Success

Chapter Seven: The Visionary Is Forgotten

Chapter Eight: Doubts Set In

Chapter Nine: Unraveling the Thread

Chapter Ten: The Final Piece of the Puzzle

Chapter Eleven: The Key to Success

Chapter Twelve: Parallel Lines