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Capitalist Tool Maker Taught Leonardo Math: Lewis Lapham

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Jane Gleeson-White
Jane Gleeson-White is the author of "Double Entry: How the Merchants of Venice Created Modern Finance." Photographer: Michael Thomas/W.W. Norton & Company via Bloomberg

Oct. 27 (Bloomberg) -- In 1494, Luca Pacioli published his mathematical encyclopedia, with a section devoted to double-entry bookkeeping. The foundation of accounting, this system of numbers propelled the growth of capitalism and the modern economy.

(To listen to the podcast, click here.)

After learning the subject from Pacioli’s book, Leonardo da Vinci got him a job in Milan as the first Chair of Mathematics. There, he helped Leonardo develop linear perspective for the “Last Supper,” while the artist gave Pacioli insight on the golden ratio for his next book.

When the French army of Louis XII invaded Milan in October 1499, Pacioli was dragged from his lodgings and his mathematical models destroyed by soldiers who deemed them the devil’s work.

Along with other refugees, Pacioli and Leonardo were forced to flee to Mantua.

I spoke with Jane Gleeson-White, author of “Double Entry: How the Merchants of Venice Created Modern Finance,” on the following topics:

1. Quantification of Capital

2. Church Challenge

3. Last Supper

4. Purpose Equals Profit

5. Non-Monetary Transactions

To buy this book in North America, click here.

(Lewis Lapham is the founder of Lapham’s Quarterly and the former editor of Harper’s magazine. He hosts “The World in Time” interview series for Bloomberg News.)

To contact the writer on the story: Lewis Lapham in New York at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Manuela Hoelterhoff at

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