They say you never write the novel you set out to write. In my experience, this is as true of non-fiction as it is of fiction. My new book Double Entry, which was published last week, is and isn’t the book I set out to write three years ago.
I started writing a book about a Renaissance monk who published the first printed treatise on Venetian bookkeeping in 1494 and taught Leonardo da Vinci mathematics - and I ended up writing a brief history of capitalism through the lens of the apparently unremarkable mechanism that drives it: double-entry bookkeeping.
I discovered that this mechanism has been ticking away unnoticed in the bowels of our commercial systems since the late 13th century when it was first recorded in a Florentine account – and now, some 700 years later, it governs the global economy, in seriously detrimental ways.
But Double Entry still begins with that Renaissance monk, Fra Luca Pacioli. And my research for it began in the green foothills of the Apennines where he was born: Sansepolcro. So here’s a mini photo tour of Sansepolcro, a pretty Tuscan town 80 kms southeast of Florence which is now more famous as the birthplace of Pacioli’s older contemporary and possible mathematics teacher Piero della Francesca. It’s also the home of Piero’s Resurrection, his fresco of Christ rising from his sepulchre which Aldous Huxley called ‘the best picture in the world‘ and is now in the town’s Museo Civico.
Luca Pacioli is remembered in his birth town in three monuments:
1. a statue commemorating the 500th anniversary of his greatest work, the Summa de arithmetica, geometria, proportione et proportionalita (‘Everything about arithmetic, geometry, proportion and proportionality’) which contains his bookkeeping treatise
2. a plaque erected in 1878 on a building opposite the Museo Civico which honours his achievements in algebra, geometry and double-entry bookkeeping, and his friendships with two giants of the Renaissance, Leonardo da Vinci and Leon Battista Alberti
And for anyone interested in travelling the Luca Pacioli trail (or indeed the Piero della Francesca trail), in Sansepolcro I stayed at the most beautiful bed and breakfast right in the centre of the old town, the Casa Mila.
And last but not least, the centre of Sansepolcro, not a car in sight.