Physicist and science writer Bruce Schechters biography of legendary Hungarian mathematician Paul Erdös is an engaging portrait, warm and intimate, bringing this strange, happy man to life. Schechters focus is quite a bit tighter, and moreMorePhysicist and science writer Bruce Schechters biography of legendary Hungarian mathematician Paul Erdös is an engaging portrait, warm and intimate, bringing this strange, happy man to life.
Schechters focus is quite a bit tighter, and more traditionally biographical, than Paul Hoffmans in The Man Who Loved Only Numbers. Here, we get to see Erdöss brief childhood transform quickly into a carefree adolescence of solving difficult math problems with his circle of brilliant friends--uniquely encouraged by a country that valued the contributions of mathematics in a way that has never been equaled. Fleeing the Holocaust, Erdös never settled down, instead traveling from place to place, showing up on the doorsteps of other mathematicians with his few possessions and an open mind.
During his career, Erdös published more papers than any other mathematician in history. Most of the papers were collaborations:For Erdös, the mathematics that consumed most of his waking hours was not a solitary pursuit but a social activity. One of the great mathematical discoveries of the twentieth century was the simple equation that two heads are better than one....
That radical transformation of how mathematics is created is the result of many factors, not the least of which was the infectious example set by Erdös. Schechter spoke with many of Erdöss collaborators to complete this biography, which reveals the odd mathematician as charming, opinionated, and completely dependent upon the kindness of others.
Schechter not only tells his fascinating story, but introduces some intriguing mathematics problems (with easy-to-understand explanations) to show readers why Erdös loved the elegance of numbers more than anything else in the world. --Therese Littleton