A fictional recounting of the life of a Renaissance mathematician and cleric.
Parker’s debut novel, part of the Mentoris Project of historical novels and biographies celebrating notable Italians, tells the story of Luca Pacioli, who combined mathematics and religion in 15th- and 16th-century Italy. After growing up in the town of Sansepolcro, Pacioli is apprenticed to a merchant who doesn’t appreciate his enthusiasm for Arabic numerals. He finds a more supportive mentor in artist Piero della Francesca, and this association leads Pacioli to new connections and collaborations as he develops his skills and Italy goes through religious and political turmoil. He’s ordained as a friar, publishes several books on mathematics and related topics, and works with various artists, including Leonardo da Vinci (“We made an odd couple, surely, one atheist and one devout friar”). Throughout his career, he draws connections between math and religion, particularly in his investigation of the divine proportion of the book’s title—a ratio that appears throughout the natural world. This novel hews closely to its subject’s documented history, and Parker does an excellent job of imagining the rest, including cameos by historical figures, such as Martin Luther. Some stylistic choices add to the book’s feeling of uniqueness; for instance, each chapter ends with a number in the famous Fibonacci mathematical sequence. The narrative is also presented as a memoir that Pacioli is dictating to a young scribe, who leaves occasional footnotes throughout the text. Parker ably explains Pacioli’s theological approach to math and balances the book’s spiritual and historical elements. However, Luca’s frequent asides to the reader (“I want to make sure you understand this reference since it’s important you grasp my sense of humor and the type of playful banter Guiliano and I had with one another”) can break the novel’s flow at times. Although some readers may be unsatisfied with the novel’s deliberately open-ended resolution, many are likely to appreciate the intriguing history and well-rounded characters.
A well-imagined celebration of Pacioli’s life and philosophy.