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I Want to Be a Mathematician: An Automathography
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I Want to Be a Mathematician: An Automathography

4.20  ·  Rating details ·  245 ratings  ·  16 reviews
From the reviews: "...this is a fascinating addition to recent mathematical culture by one of its makers. The main message i absorbed from it was a set of conditions required for success in mathematics: talent, yes; single-mindedness, almost as obvious; sense of humour, essential when the going gets tough; and love, yes that is the right word - you must love mathematics, a ...more
Hardcover, 421 pages
Published May 17th 1985 by Springer
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Premal Vora
May 16, 2013 rated it really liked it
Give this book to every newly-minted Ph.D. who joins academia as there is a vast amount of wisdom in here on the three cornerstones of an academic career: teaching, research, and service. I wish someone would've given me this book because I had to learn most of what's in here the hard way. There is no mathematics in here. It's the story of an immigrant to the U.S. who accidentally became a mathematician. It follows his career and the colorful mathematics personalities that he encounters. But mor ...more
Dec 17, 2010 rated it liked it
The story of the professional life of one of the more successful mathematiticans of the mid-1900's. It gives interesting insight to the full career of a mathematician as well as some personality quirks of those Halmos came across. A few gems:

Littlewood's Zero-Infinity Law: If you get a request to referee a paper, decide to do it NOW or to refuse NOW (since you'll never do it). This makes everyone's lives better.

The Moore Method: Teaching by making the students come up with the proofs.

Some of the
Feb 18, 2008 rated it liked it
This is an unusual book (its declared genre is "automathography"!) by someone who wanted to be a mathematician. I am glad I managed to read this book from cover to cover, although Halmos (for whom I had some admiration in my salad days) proved [no pun] to be irritating every now and then.

I was undecided between giving this book 3 or 4 stars, but I finally opted for 3. Still, it's a book I'd recommend any professional mathematician to read.
Aug 10, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I really enjoyed this book because Halmos focuses a lot on the events/interests he has on the periphery of mathematics. A lot of mathematician's autobiographies are extremely math-centric, focusing only on the events building up to finding an important result. This book provided a more holistic perspective on the life of a mathematician. Topics discussed range from getting distracted by poker and billiards during his graduate career to very candid descriptions of his feelings towards not getting ...more
Sep 13, 2007 rated it really liked it
Shelves: mathematics
I read this when I was making my big transition from saying "I want to be a physicist," to " I want to be a mathematician." Halmos is a great writer. He gives a really good idea of what it is like to be a mathematician. ...more
Akshara Prasad
Apr 30, 2021 rated it really liked it
I highly recommend this book to anyone who wants to be a mathematician or is in the process of being a mathematician or anyone who generally wants to know the life of a mathematician. Halmos' excellent expository skills coupled by a front row experience of the development of mathematics in the previous century makes for an excellent reading.

Note that this book is not about what Halmos liked or disliked. You almost never get to know his personal life. He does not tell you about his marriage or hi
Daniel Esteban Escudero Ospina
Dec 06, 2020 rated it really liked it
It’s a nice book. Of course, very subjective, and also very discouraging for some to-be mathematicians as Halmos seems to have very high standards on pretty much everything. On the other hand, it also helped me keep up the motivation at times, recall some of the things I like about academia, and teach me a thing or two about the things that may await me in the future as an academic.

Overall a recommended read, but make sure not to take Halmos’ view as “THE” view.
Amit Sharma
Feb 23, 2017 rated it really liked it
I ordered this book acting on my impulse but was not disappointed. It turned out to be a good read. Despite being not from mathematical background I think I followed most of the text written by author. The book, as declared in the introduction by the author, is not about how to be a mathematician rather it's a life story of times and trials faced by him and the bittersweet journey it has been to become a mathematician. ...more
Craig Citro
Dec 26, 2016 rated it liked it
If you think you might want to read this, definitely get it. If you're not sure, you'd probably be bored.

This is just as advertised: an automathography, meaning that it's a description of Paul Halmos's life as a mathematician. I loved Halmos, and I think he was much more self-aware than most mathematicians. Two of my favorite quotes (paraphrased):

* I'll be best remembered for an abbreviation (iff) and a notation (the box at the end of a proof), and no one will remember that either of them was du
Mar 15, 2015 rated it really liked it
Written by a mathematician that proclaims to "like words more than numbers", I Want to Be a Mathematician: An Automathography delivers -- it is a pithy, insightful exposition on what it is to live and experience mathematics. It is a departure from the typical layman idea of mathematical progress as that of lone genius after lone genius, but instead paints the collaborative, artistic and inherently social picture behind all the theorems, lemmas and proofs.

Besides a few detours into real, difficul
Thai Son
Jan 28, 2014 rated it really liked it
I have not finished this, I finished the part up until his time at the IAS, and that was already plenty of content to mull over- and very pertinent one at that.

I do not want to comment too much on the mathematics, or different methods and ideas, I do enjoy his detailing his interest with writing and languages. This shows how "democratic" mathematics is, there is a great variety of backgrounds. The implication is inspiring.

Nov 06, 2015 rated it really liked it
This book was engaging and held my interest mostly because I could compare the stories Halmos tells with my own experiences. That said, I suspect that the outsider, the non-practitioner, might find some of it bewildering and much of it boring.
May 24, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: great-read
Read this book in Leicester when I was waiting for my PhD viva.

"Mathematics is a young man's game."
Long Mai
Dec 03, 2010 rated it it was amazing
The best book I have ever read about mathematician. It's real, but inspired. I want to be a mathematician after reading this book. ...more
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“Mathematics is not a deductive science - that's a cliche. When you try to prove a theorem, you don't just list the hypotheses, and then start to reason. What you do is trial and error, experimentation, guesswork.” 2 likes
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