Mairi'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 by Paul Hoffman
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May 31, 2008

really liked it
bookshelves: non-fiction, begged-or-borrowed
Read in June, 2008

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 forsook pretty much all else. He didn't have his own home but rather travelled from mathematician to mathematician and from conference to conference. His correspondence almost entirely consisted of mathematical conjecture with very little small talk. Prior to eye surgery he asked the surgeon if he'd be able to read. The doctor responded that was the point of the surgery. At the last minute they had to scramble to get mathematicians from a local university to come and talk math with him during the surgery (for which he would be awake) because when he asked, he meant during the surgery, not as a result of it and otherwise wasn't willing to go through with it.

Hoffman's style is smooth and brings history, biography and the mathematical concepts that orbit them together in a seemless way. I never felt like I was reading disconnected stories or information that belonged anywhere but exactly where it was. I'm sort of sad to be done with it.
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