# Manny's Reviews > The Man Who Loved Only Numbers: The Story of Paul Erdős and the Search for Mathematical Truth

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

by Paul Hoffman

by Paul Hoffman

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 couple of ideas so brilliant that their whole careers would be revitalized, or pushed in some exciting new direction they hadn't even suspected might exist. I'm afraid you don't understand mathematicians' priorities.

As the title says, Erdös loved only numbers, and he wanted to share that love with the whole world. He collaborated with over 500 different people on over 1400 published papers, and every researcher now talks about their "Erdös number". If you published a joint paper with him, your number is 1. If you published a paper with a person who's a 1, you're a 2, and so on. Low numbers are much sought after; if you're wondering, I'm a 5, which is so-so. I keep trying to find a 3 who wants to write a joint paper with me, but so far unsuccessfully.

Like many mathematicians, Erdös had an unusual way of talking, and liked making up his own names for things. He was in particular famous for his habit of calling God "The Supreme Fascist", or "The S.F." for short. I don't think he meant any harm by this: it's just the kind of thing mathematicians think is funny. If there is a God, I'm sure He has some equally insulting pet name for Erdös. The world of mathematics still misses him badly; it would be nice to think that he was up there in the Heavenly Math Institute, publishing joint papers with Pythagoras and Gauss.

This is a fine book about Erdös, sympathetically written by someone who understood well what an amazing, unique person he was. If you're any kind of mathematician, and by some mischance you haven't already come across it, you should put it on your list without further delay!

As the title says, Erdös loved only numbers, and he wanted to share that love with the whole world. He collaborated with over 500 different people on over 1400 published papers, and every researcher now talks about their "Erdös number". If you published a joint paper with him, your number is 1. If you published a paper with a person who's a 1, you're a 2, and so on. Low numbers are much sought after; if you're wondering, I'm a 5, which is so-so. I keep trying to find a 3 who wants to write a joint paper with me, but so far unsuccessfully.

Like many mathematicians, Erdös had an unusual way of talking, and liked making up his own names for things. He was in particular famous for his habit of calling God "The Supreme Fascist", or "The S.F." for short. I don't think he meant any harm by this: it's just the kind of thing mathematicians think is funny. If there is a God, I'm sure He has some equally insulting pet name for Erdös. The world of mathematics still misses him badly; it would be nice to think that he was up there in the Heavenly Math Institute, publishing joint papers with Pythagoras and Gauss.

This is a fine book about Erdös, sympathetically written by someone who understood well what an amazing, unique person he was. If you're any kind of mathematician, and by some mischance you haven't already come across it, you should put it on your list without further delay!

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*The Man Who Loved Only Numbers*.## Reading Progress

01/31 | marked as: | read |

## Comments (showing 1-25 of 25) (25 new)

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Hey Manny - Finished this book about two weeks ago. Time well spent! He certainly was an eccentric - I doubt I would have had the patience to have him as my houseguest. But now I have to thank the author for giving me the ability to finally wrap my mind around the concepts of "imaginary numbers", and other things like primes that had eluded me before. It's not just a history of math in the 20th century - his life is also about skirting around the controversial issues of his time like the atom bomb and McCarthyism. Good read!

*rivka wrote: "My dad has an Erdös number of 2, looks like.*

*double-checks* Yup, via Dr. Totik. Cool!"

*double-checks* Yup, via Dr. Totik. Cool!"

Impressive! What kind of mathematician is he?

He's a mathematical physicist. (Which my mom, a mathematician, says makes him neither a mathematician nor a physicist.)

This is indeed a fine book, right up there with the biography of Ramanujan "The Man Who Knew Infinity". I will not dignify David Leavitt's vile "The Indian Clerk" by mentioning it (oops, I just did).

Then there is the interesting concept of the Bacon-Erdös number; see, e.g.

http://gaelstat.blogspot.com/2008/08/...

Another nice review, thanks Manny! Now we just need that definitive Galois biography.

Then there is the interesting concept of the Bacon-Erdös number; see, e.g.

http://gaelstat.blogspot.com/2008/08/...

Another nice review, thanks Manny! Now we just need that definitive Galois biography.

i suck at math. i hate math. my third grade son can kick my ass sideways at math. but the fact of it is fascinating, and people who get it? even more so.

*Choupette wrote: "Why did you not become a mathematician, Manny?"*

Um... basically, I suppose because I discovered that I wasn't good enough at it. Unfortunately.

Pshh, whatever. I'm sure you're a topping mathematician, Manny. Well, depending on the criteria necessary to be called a "mathematician"...

*Matthew wrote: "Pshh, whatever. I'm sure you're a topping mathematician, Manny. Well, depending on the criteria necessary to be called a "mathematician"..."*

Well thank you for the vote of confidence! But when I went to Cambridge, I met some real mathematicians, and soon decided I was never going to be like them. My supervisor was Béla Bollobás, who is an Erdös 1 eighteen times over, and I also got to know John Thompson. I discovered AI, and thought that would suit me better. I probably called it right.

much like george costanza, i wanted to be an architect.

the other day, i told my 9 year old that 6x5 equalled 40.

you can see my dilemma.

the other day, i told my 9 year old that 6x5 equalled 40.

you can see my dilemma.

*tami wrote: "much like george costanza, i wanted to be an architect.*

the other day, i told my 9 year old that 6x5 equalled 40.

you can see my dilemma."

the other day, i told my 9 year old that 6x5 equalled 40.

you can see my dilemma."

Tami, there is no way that 6x5 could be 40. 6 is divisible by 3, 40 isn't. Think prime factors!

yeah. how about, use a calculator and never EVER help the children with math?

*Choupette wrote: "Fair enough. That must have been a hard decision to make, though."*

I still have occasional regrets. Did you notice my short poem, Theorem Envy?

Ha! I think I might just have managed to get beauty to remove her overcoat. Go me (my Erdos number is infinity, incidentally)! I enjoyed the

*Hunting of the Snark*poem, too, which I somehow managed to miss.*Choupette wrote: "Ha! I think I might just have managed to get beauty to remove her overcoat. Go me (my Erdos number is infinity, incidentally)! I enjoyed the Hunting of the Snark poem, too, which I somehow managed ..."*

I once published a paper that included a commutative diagram - annoyingly, it's not available online. I think that's as far as I've got with Beauty. Sorry about the graphic details.

As soon as you publish any refereed work, you'll probably have an Erdös number. I think almost the whole graph is connected these days.

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