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The Man Who Loved Only Numbers: The Story of Paul Erdős and the Search for Mathematical Truth

4.13  ·  Rating Details  ·  4,880 Ratings  ·  270 Reviews
Based on a National Magazine Award-winning article, this masterful biography of Hungarian-born Paul Erdos is both a vivid portrait of an eccentric genius and a layman's guide to some of this century's most startling mathematical discoveries.
Paperback, 302 pages
Published May 12th 1999 by Hachette Books (first published 1998)
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Gödel, Escher, Bach by Douglas R. HofstadterFermat's Enigma by Simon SinghFlatland by Edwin A. AbbottThe Code Book by Simon SinghZero by Charles Seife
Best Books About Mathematics
6th out of 235 books — 402 voters
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Mathematical Biography
1st out of 44 books — 19 voters

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Mar 10, 2009 Manny rated it really liked it
I originally wanted to be a mathematician, and I'm still enough of one that I am completely in awe of Erdös. He was the Saint Francis of Mathematics; he had no possessions, and just wandered around the world doing math research with like-minded people. I see that another reviewer has called him a "hanger-on". Friend, you completely miss the point. He might turn up on someone's doorstep and expect them to feed him and give him a place to sleep for a few nights. He'd often reward them with a coupl ...more
"Végre nem butulok tovább."
"Finally I am becoming stupider no more."

The epitaph Paul Erdős wrote for himself.

Paul Erdős was the embodiment of mathematics. His brain was finely tuned to think about mathematics constantly -- for as much as 18 hours a day, if not more. Every moment of his waking life appears to have been spent thinking about theorems, conjectures, problems, and solutions. He was one of the most influential mathematicians of the 20th century, and collaborated with more than 500
A human look at the Hungarian mathematician Paul Erdos who loved numbers more than anything. Instead of being a cold analytic, Erdos was a compassionate person who shared the best part of himself with others. Making money off his talent was not important to him but sharing math was. He had selflessly paired his talents with countless others who seek to solve mathematical conundrums and traveled where he was needed. A wandering monk of mathematics, he gave away what he earned to charities, living ...more
Feb 02, 2013 David rated it really liked it
Paul Erdos was a prolific, well-known mathematician. He wrote over 1400 journal articles in various mathematical publications, many of them collaborations. Those people who collaborated with him earned an Erdos "number 1". Those who collaborated with someone who collaborated with him earned a "number 2", and so on.

To say that Erdos was "eccentric" would be an understatement. He had no home--he carried a suitcase with a single change of clothes in it, and traveled the world, visiting one mathemat
Jose lana
Mar 20, 2016 Jose lana rated it really liked it
A good book over the life of Paul Erdos in his histhorical and mathematical context,a life wholly devoted to his only love :the mathematics,with the exception of his mother,the beautifull mathematics and proofs,those he said were written in "The Book" a book owned by God,at what the men can only get glimpses.

Erdos was a eccentric man,a sort of monk for whom the maths were almost a religion,perpetually itinerant whose only private properties were two suitcases and that said that the private prope
Feb 18, 2013 BetseaK rated it really liked it
Shelves: biographies, maths
I enjoyed this book a lot. Within a humanized story of the colourful life of Hungarian maths genius Paul Erdős and the people associated with him in various ways, this book gives a fascinating insight into the world of pure mathematics, its historical background and the lives and psychology of many famous mathematicians.
I was particularly interested in the real-life applications of the maths concept as well as the psychological aspect. I found it surprising that, despite their talent for findin
Mar 09, 2009 Andy rated it liked it
Paul Erdos, the famously eccentric mathematician, spent twenty hours a day, every day hopped-up on amphetamines, working through mathematical proofs, to the exclusion of any sort of normal social life. He had his own language (to “die” meant to leave the field of mathematics, children were “epsilons”, women “bosses”, God was the “SF” or “Supreme Fascist”). Admittedly asexual, he lived alone with his mother until she died, and then he wandered the U.S. and Europe, staying for a few weeks at a tim ...more
Jun 24, 2008 Mairi rated it really liked it
I really liked this book a lot. It's the biography of Paul Erdos (pronounced air-dish), a Hungarian mathematician. I read/went over a few sections of it to my really-into-math thirteen-year-old daughter (worst-case scenario analysis, the bin problem, the travelling salesman problem, that 1-1+1-1+1-1... is an infinite series, and a bit about Sophie Germain's correspondence with Gauss) and she was fascinated by it too.

Erdos was an interesting man. So focussed on his passion for numbers that he fo
Jun 19, 2014 Philipp rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A book that made me very happy, this one details the life of Paul Erdős (with two thingies on the o), arguably the most important mathematician of the 20th century, his works & achievements, and his more than, um, quirky lifestyle. He had little possessions and like a world-citizen he travelled from collaborator to collaborator's couch, staying at each house for a few weeks until another theorem was proven.

Since it's a book about an influential mathematician, pretty much all of the greats of
Feb 10, 2013 Martina rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction, biography
The Man Who Loved Only Numbers is an interesting read from multiple aspects. It mostly concentrates on the life story of Paul Erdös, an incredible genius who took on an occupation of traveling mathematician, all for one goal: getting more knowledge from the Book. (It was Erdös' opinion that the Supreme Fascist up there had a Book filled with elegant mathematical equations, but people weren't allowed to read it. Instead, people could only catch glimpses of the Book's pages, by means of flashes o ...more
Feb 26, 2015 Kamiyab rated it really liked it
عبّاس معروفی، اوّلای کتاب "فریدون سه پسر داشت" میگفت که آدم احساساتش رو فقط به زبون مادریش میتونه بیان کنه(نقل به مضمون). واین حرف از احساساته و دلیلی واسه انگلیسی نوشتنش نیست.

این کتاب زندگینامهی پل اردیش، از نوابغ ریاضی قرن بیستمه. چرا زندگینامهها رو میخونیم؟ زندگینامهی چه کسانی ارزش خوندن داره؟ افرادی که زندگیشون چیزی واسه ارائه داشته. افرادی که بود و نبودش فرق داره. و مطمئناً اردیش از اوناست.

میدونید از اردیش و زندگیش چی میشه یاد گرفت؟ دوست داشتن. اردیش مردی بود که "فقط" اعداد رو دوست داشت. و
Feb 26, 2013 Glynn rated it really liked it
This book is about a mathematician and his life with numbers, an idea so esoteric mere humans such as myself cannot comprehend it. This particular mathematician had a special code language for many things. Men were slaves, women were bosses, children were epsilons, etc. This mathematician was generous to a fault but also relied on the kindness of strangers, like Blanche DuBois in "A Streetcar Named Desire." He was a difficult person but so brilliant and so kind that people put up with his many e ...more
Aaron Arnold
Dec 17, 2013 Aaron Arnold rated it really liked it
Shelves: science, read-in-2011
I wish there were more people like Paul Erdös. I was only ever decent at math in high school, and terrible at math after that, so his exploits make me jealous in a good way. I think for many people, and certainly frequently for me, math beyond a certain point is a dense, lightless thicket of symbols. Maybe everyone is born with a certain amount of math facility, and once you learn up to the point where your returns have diminished to uselessness, you have no choice but to forget about it and mov ...more
Mohammad Zakerzadeh
Feb 07, 2015 Mohammad Zakerzadeh rated it really liked it
The book is a very appealing source "mainly" about one of the greatest figures in mathematical world in the past century.
I say mainly because around 40 percent of the book is not directly related to Erdos and is devoted to explain the mathematical terms or history behind the theorems and people involved (or even not involved in some cases) in Erdos's life.

The book is well written in my opinion and readable by non-mathematicians and people not familiar with number theory.
Mar 31, 2013 Ragnarok rated it really liked it
A very fun read and often extremely interesting and exciting. My only comment is that it's not strictly a biography of Erdos, at times going nearly a whole chapter without mentioning him. Rather it's reminiscences about him and the lives of many other famous mathematicians that intersected with his. (If you've read a few books on mathematics then you've probably heard a lot of the anecdotes before.) Very inspiring.
Jan 05, 2009 Brian rated it it was amazing
Erdos was a Hungarian who only did math. Never had sex, kept an apartment, or buttered his own toast (though he said he thought he could do it (the butter, not the sex)).

But he did manage to knock on the door of anyone who would put up with him, to do math 20 hours a day with the assistance of coffee and amphetamines (till he was 80-something). You'll think his shenanigans are made up.
Apr 29, 2013 kaśyap rated it really liked it
This is a well written biography of paul erdos, a prolific hungarian mathematician who spends over 19 hours a day doing mathematics and has published over 1400 papers. He was a man who had no home and had travelled around the world giving lectures and staying at his friends place's.
To anyone who is interested in mathematics, this book is great and very fun to read.
Angus Mcfarlane
Mar 21, 2013 Angus Mcfarlane rated it really liked it
Shelves: science, biography
What would you expect to see in a book about the 20th centuries most prolific mathematician? A man dressed in a tweed suit, tenured to one of the worlds great universities where he toiled in solitude writing esoteric articles? Surprisingly, he was a diminutive Hungarian of no fixed abode whose eccentric engagement with all who were willing to open their brains inspired a generation of mathematicians to tackle new problems, some of them simple enough to understand (but not, necessarily, to solve! ...more
Sep 23, 2011 Chrissy rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: curious minds
Recommended to Chrissy by: I don't remember...
Paul Hoffman strikes the perfect balance between math and biography, technicality and heart-felt sentiments for a life worthy of remembering. I'm a little surprised I had never heard of Paul Erdos before having this book recommended to me, but I'm kind of glad I hadn't. It let me experience the world of math through his eyes and the eyes of those who knew him, without a single shred of foreknowledge. I let Hoffman carry me through the life and math (though I'd argue they are hardly separable) of ...more
Jun 11, 2012 Clint rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2012
Man this book was as fun as a barrel of monkeys. I used to hate math so much when I was a kid, I mean a deep-seated resentment of it, a gutsy full on fucking abhorrence of it. Then I got into physics in college and started liking it, and eventually got As in calculus, but I think I was studying 10 times more than everyone else to get those grades. I'm just not mathematically inclined. Oh well, it's still fun as shit to read about.

Paul Erdos, a dude I'd never heard of, is awesome, a freaky sexua
Jun 04, 2009 Matthew rated it it was amazing
Charming biography of mathematician Paul Erdos. Charming, I would think to anyone who at least appreciates mathematics or mathematical research. The mathematician lived an eccentric, nomadic life, collaborating with numerous mathematicians, randomly supporting graduate students to finish their degrees without any noticeable concern of being reimbursed. He had no interest in common pleasures, conversation, relationships, in anything except mathematics. He did love children though, referring to th ...more
Noemie Vassilakis
Oct 05, 2011 Noemie Vassilakis rated it it was amazing
Reading this book ten years ago changed how I physically perceive. Sound and visual input brightened for me, became more vivid. I gained a new appreciation of the profound order and interconnectedness of all phenomena.

I understand from other reviews that there isn't much in this book that's new to mathematicians or to people who are widely read in math. But I was hungry for this information and I drank it in and it's like it nourished me in just the way I needed at the time.

I do take issue with
Jenny (Reading Envy)
I sat by one of the math faculty at a new faculty dinner, and when we started talking about math he told me I should read this book. I enjoyed it! Paul Erdos was a very unique individual (as mathematicians are) - more than anything I enjoyed his made up vocabulary - God = S.F. (Supreme Fascist), children=epsilons, women=masters, men=slaves, Americans=Sam, Soviets=Joe. A lot of math is sprinkled in there as well, including information about numbers bigger than infinity (ha! proven at last!) and m ...more
Feb 02, 2016 Diogo rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: ethics, mathematics
É comum a muitas crianças terem o primeiro contacto uma «felicidade pura de existir» através do contacto com as peças Lego. É talvez possível que as únicas derivadas nulas na felicidade de uma pessoa estejam em {«construção nave espacial», «construção fortaleza», «construção avião», «construção robot-velociraptor»}. Mas porque é que isto acontece? Porque é que a existência não é uma experiência de mãos dadas com essa felicidade pura?

Esta questão deve estar a par de questões como «porque é que os
Lani Thong
Oct 15, 2015 Lani Thong rated it it was amazing
Have you ever read a book so splendid you did not even want it to finish?
Mostly fiction will give you such effect. But a biography? I never thought of that until I encountered this book.

This book is a recollection about the improbable life of legendary Paul Erdos, one of the most prominent mathematicians of the 20th century. Not only the book wrote how Erdos rolled as mathematician monk who dedicated his life to make and prove conjectures; it also mentioned about other great late mathematicians
Navneet Bhushan
Feb 26, 2016 Navneet Bhushan rated it really liked it
Paul Erdos - the monk and perhaps the "God" of Mathematicians of last few decades. I have been hoping to read this book for many years now - especially when I started studying social network analysis and in fact science of networks - sometimes around 2006-2007. Paul Erdos continued to be a regular feature of most of the books, articles and talks on networks. It is clear after reading this book - why. The guy who gave us this gem "mathematics is converting coffee into theorems" - need be celebrat ...more
Choc Sarao
Sep 18, 2014 Choc Sarao rated it really liked it
Shelves: bios
The colorful life of Paul Erdos, the most prolific mathematician of his time. He co-wrote over 1400 papers with hundreds of collaborators over a span of 7 decades. His genius was undeniable, but he is remembered not so much for his intellect but for how he eschewed everything, in favor of his lone obsession, numbers. He gave away all his money and possessions, save for a few slovenly clothes in a suitase and started wandering the world, hopping from one math conference to another, often not stay ...more
Jonathan Beams
May 17, 2009 Jonathan Beams rated it it was amazing
Orthogonal with respect to human norms, Erdos was an inspiring and unreasonable machine for creating number theory when fed and clothed by his mathematical colleagues and kept in a supply of Benzedrine by an understanding physician. When his welcome was worn out, off he'd go to the next professorship, conference, or vacant livingroom couch. A madman and a genius, and wicked smart, Erdos embodied Whitehead's statement that 'It is the essence of life that it exists for its own sake.'
Apr 26, 2010 Nancy rated it it was amazing
Recommended to Nancy by: Andy Henroid
Shelves: biography
This entertaining book is more than a biography of Paul Erdos. Through the framework of the life of Erdos Hoffman teaches us about the work of other mathematicians whose work Erdos built upon or with whom he wrote papers. Paul Hoffman introduces a variety of mathematical conjectures and proofs in a way that is easy to grasp. It is one of the most interesting and accessible books on mathematics I have read.

I heard about this book in a review of another book on Goodreads.
Jul 30, 2015 Price rated it really liked it
The title says it all. This is the story of life of a man whose sole passion was mathematics and his hyperactive collaboration with mathematicians around the world. He might show up unannounced banging at some mathematicians door in the middle of the night. He wouldn't explain himself or the reason for his visit but start the the conversation with something like, "imagine p to power of X and let n equal" and off they go working 18 to 20 hours a day on problems and theorems and then he would be o ...more
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Science and Inquiry: February 2013 - The Man Who Loved Only Numbers 36 153 Mar 22, 2013 10:10AM  
  • Prime Obsession: Bernhard Riemann and the Greatest Unsolved Problem in Mathematics
  • My Brain is Open: The Mathematical Journeys of Paul Erdos
  • Men of Mathematics
  • The Man Who Knew Infinity: A Life of the Genius Ramanujan
  • A Mathematician's Apology
  • Journey through Genius: The Great Theorems of Mathematics
  • The Princeton Companion to Mathematics
  • The Music of the Primes: Searching to Solve the Greatest Mystery in Mathematics
  • What Is Mathematics?: An Elementary Approach to Ideas and Methods
  • Letters to a Young Mathematician
  • I Want to Be a Mathematician: An Automathography
  • Gödel's Proof
  • e: the Story of a Number
  • A History of π
  • The Mathematical Experience
  • Adventures of a Mathematician
  • An Imaginary Tale: The Story of the Square Root of Minus One
  • Proofs from THE BOOK
Paul Hoffman (born 1956) is a prominent author and host of the PBS television series Great Minds of Science. He was president and editor in chief of Discover, in a ten-year tenure with that magazine, and served as president and publisher of Encyclopaedia Britannica before returning full-time to writing and consulting work.

He lives in Woodstock, New York. Author of at least ten books, he has appea
More about Paul Hoffman...

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