Reading Leonardo and Steve: The Young Genius Who Beat Apple to Market by 800 Years, by Dr. Keith Devlin is easy, entertaining, and educational. Those are three qualities that make Leonardo and Steve a good choice for a leisure-minded non-fiction enthusiast like me. You don’t have to be a math genius to understand this book either. In my case, that’s a good thing!
The crux of this book is the parallel between Steve Jobs and Leonardo Pisano; how they seized upon, changed, and communicated the inventions of other’s and sparked financial and personal computing revolutions. Leonardo (also called Fibonacci) did this in 1202 by writing the book Liber Abbaci which introduced Hindu-Arabic numbers to the businessmen of Pisa, and explained how these numbers made accounting much easier than the Roman numerals they were using.
All of that would be interesting in its own right, but to me as a former elementary school teacher and participant in the world of gifted education, there are some other random things about Leonardo and Steve’s stories that really strike me.
Dr. Devlin briefly mentions that after the publication of Liber Abbaci, arithmetic schools sprung up over Italy, where maesti d’abbaco would teach students the new Hindu-Arabic methods. He says that these schools “followed a specified syllabus, typically comprised of reading and writing in the vernacular, arithmetic, geometry, bookkeeping, and occasionally navigation.” (Loc 274, 29%) A specified syllabus? That almost sounds like Common Core Standards from the Middle Ages!
The other section of Leonardo and Steve that I found fascinating was this description of what it is like when a computer programmer gets lost in thought while at the computer: “Once you get into the project, it develops a life of its own. You find yourself in what is often referred to as “The flow”. Time stands still, and the mind is able to cope with any amount of fine detail. Indeed, it does not seem like fine detail; at that moment that design or that piece of code is all that matters in the world.” (Loc 235, 25%) I thought that was good explanation of what happens to gifted people in general when they get super-focused on a project. In fact, perhaps it is the gifted brain’s ability to focus on something for a long time (the so-called 10,000 hours effect) that leads to achievement.
A final thought about Leonardo and Steve is that it could very well be read as a sequel to Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell. What would have happened if Leonardo had not been born into the nobility? What would have happened if his father had not taken him to Algeria where he encountered Hindu-Arabic numbers? What would have happened if Steve Jobs had not lived in Cupertino? You could very well make the argument that these men would not have made such a big impacts into modern lives if they had not been born in the right places and the right times.
P.S. I have no idea if I annotated these page numbers correctly or not, so I apologize if I made citing errors. This is only the third eBook I’ve read and it took me a good deal of time figuring out how to use the highlighting function. If I don’t make a concerted effort to keep up with technology I’ll end up someday as the grandmother who doesn’t know how to turn on her TV! 🙂