The Man Who Loved Only Numbers: The Story Of Paul Erdos And The Search For Mathematical Truth

Hardcover | May 25, 1999

byPaul Hoffman

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Paul Erdos was an amazing and prolific mathematician whose life as a world-wandering numerical nomad was legendary. He published almost 1500 scholarly papers before his death in 1996, and he probably thought more about math problems than anyone in history. Like a traveling salesman offering his thoughts as wares, Erdos would show up on the doorstep of one mathematician or another and announce, "My brain is open." After working through a problem, he'd move on to the next place, the next solution.
Hoffman's book, like Sylvia Nasar's biography of John Nash, A Beautiful Mind, reveals a genius's life that transcended the merely quirky. But Erdos's brand of madness was joyful, unlike Nash's despairing schizophrenia. Erdos never tried to dilute his obsessive passion for numbers with ordinary emotional interactions, thus avoiding hurting the people around him, as Nash did. Oliver Sacks writes of Erdos: "A mathematical genius of the first order, Paul Erdos was totally obsessed with his subject--he thought and wrote mathematics for nineteen hours a day until the day he died. He traveled constantly, living out of a plastic bag, and had no interest in food, sex, companionship, art--all that is usually indispensable to a human life."

The Man Who Loved Only Numbers is easy to love, despite his strangeness. It's hard not to have affection for someone who referred to children as "epsilons," from the Greek letter used to represent small quantities in mathematics; a man whose epitaph for himself read, "Finally I am becoming stupider no more"; and whose only really necessary tool to do his work was a quiet and open mind.

Hoffman, who followed and spoke with Erdos over the last 10 years of his life, introduces us to an undeniably odd, yet pure and joyful, man who loved numbers more than he loved God--whom he referred to as SF, for Supreme Fascist. He was often misunderstood, and he certainly annoyed people sometimes, but Paul Erdos is no doubt missed. --Therese Littleton

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From Our Editors

Paul Erdos gave up everything to pursue his love of numbers. For more than 60 years he travelled the world, armed only with a tattered suitcase and an overwhelming need to figure out the secret language of numbers. Based on a National Magazine Award-winning article, The Man Who Loved Numbers is an engaging portrait of this brilliant an...

From the Publisher

Paul Erdos was an amazing and prolific mathematician whose life as a world-wandering numerical nomad was legendary. He published almost 1500 scholarly papers before his death in 1996, and he probably thought more about math problems than anyone in history. Like a traveling salesman offering his thoughts as wares, Erdos would show up on...

Paul Hoffman was president of Encyclopedia Britannica and editor-in-chief of Discover, and is the author of The Man Who Loved Only Numbers and The Wings of Madness. He is the winner of the first National Magazine Award for Feature Writing, and his work has appeared in the New Yorker, Time, and Atlantic Monthly. He lives in Woodstock, N...

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Format:HardcoverDimensions:320 pages, 8.58 × 5.78 × 1.1 inPublished:May 25, 1999Publisher:Hachette BooksLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0786863625

ISBN - 13:9780786863624

Appropriate for ages: 13

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Reviews

Rated 3 out of 5 by from The reading you need after doing too much math I am myself a math student at university, and beside my regular heavy study works I often enjoy reading some biographies of great mathematicians. So, I came across this book in the bookstore. First of all, I have to say this book is not all that much about mathematics, and actually it was written by a non-mathematician author. So, general public may find this book quite readable simply due to this advantage. I would strongly recommend this book to mathematics students because it does a good job portraiting Paul Erdos and his passion toward his beloved math. It is very important for mathematics students to know that what they are studying is more than a subject, mathematics is the most self-contained, self-sufficient knowledge of human intelligence. And, from Paul Erdos's life we can see how attractive this subject could be, as what it's mentioned in the book Albert Einstein himself admitted that he found mathematics as a subject sometimes is too beautiful that often he finds himself go
Date published: 2002-05-22
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Mathematics for the Beginner Paul Hoffman has done a great job with his biography of Erdos. He delves into different aspects of Erdos' life, and makes us care about this strange man. He also explains some mathematical theorems very well, if not in an entirely rigorous fashion. I enjoyed reading this book, and recommend to anyone who is interested in Mathematics.
Date published: 2001-02-01
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Not Enough Paul It doesn't seem that Hoffman was able to write an entire book on Paul Erdos. Though the anecdotes on Erdos' life are humorous, and explicit, many of them are of the "heard it before" kind. There are very few in-depth appeals to his life, and for a mathematician as prolific, and as eccentric as he, it is a shame. Much of the book talks about other mathematical greats, such as Cantor, Hardy, and Godel, and what they accomplished in their lives/careers. For a book that espouses itself as a telling tale of "The Man Who Loved Only Numbers" it was almost in poor taste to include as much material on other mathematicians, as Paul himself. To learn more about Erdos, it may be better to try to find someone with an Erdos Number of 1.
Date published: 1999-10-18
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Mad 4 Books The incredible tale of a man who devoted his entire life to the pursuit of pure math. Unable or unwilling to do life's simple tasks for himself, Paul Erdos managed to publish an astounding 1,475 papers on pure math in his lifetime. Amazing, funny and sad all in one book. Warning, contains considerable pure math and is not an easy read.
Date published: 1999-09-13
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Not Just Paul (unfortunately) I was hoping to find out more about this man named Erdos. From my Math professors, I have been told some very interesting stories about this great mathematician, but the book went on long digressions about many others. A large section on Andrew Wiles and Fermat's Last Theorem didn't add much to the experience (mainly because I have read Singh's "Fermat's Enigma" which told a great story about the quest to solve FLT). Sections on Hardy, Ramanujan, Godel, and others also seemed out of place. For those who want a brief introduction into the world in which mathematicians live, this is probably a good book. For those that wish to learn more about the man mentioned in the title, there are probably better places to go.
Date published: 1999-08-11

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From Our Editors

Paul Erdos gave up everything to pursue his love of numbers. For more than 60 years he travelled the world, armed only with a tattered suitcase and an overwhelming need to figure out the secret language of numbers. Based on a National Magazine Award-winning article, The Man Who Loved Numbers is an engaging portrait of this brilliant and obsessive mathematician, featuring explanations of Erdos' elegantly simple and strangely beautiful mathematical discoveries.