The Fibonacci Confessions

Written by Graham Wade
Review by B. N. Peacock

Graham Wade’s debut novel brings Leonardo Pisano—Fibonacci—brilliantly alive as a fictional autobiography. Wade, a musicologist known for his biographies of Rodrigo and Segovia, applies his talents to creating a plausible life for a medieval mathematician about whom little is known. Wade’s scholarly skills are both his strength and weakness.

Presented as a series of letters explaining how he came to write his famous treatise, The Squares, The Fibonacci Confessions excels in detail but is thin on plot. Fibonacci begins his pursuit of “the numbers” and “the women” early in his native Pisa. Tutored in mathematics there, the boy follows his father, a Pisan customs official, to Bugia (Algeria), where his studies in “the numbers” take serious shape under the first of many Arab instructors.

However, when it comes to “the women,” Fibonacci seeks no instruction, although he certainly needs it. From a fondness for a nurse to an attraction toward a young sailor, Fibonacci progresses to an infatuation with his instructor’s Arab daughter, which ends sadly. His journey to Alexandria and Cairo begin a lifelong pattern, bouncing from one love affair to another, while he simultaneously seeks tutelage from Arab mathematicians. Along the way, he “heals” an Arab boy, attempts the disastrous rescue of Crusaders enslaved in Syria, and marries.

Plot aside, the book presents a fascinating account of medieval mathematics and how it spread from the Middle East to Europe.