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

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


By (author) Paul Hoffman

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  • Publisher: FOURTH ESTATE LTD
  • Format: Paperback | 320 pages
  • Dimensions: 128mm x 196mm x 24mm | 240g
  • Publication date: 3 June 1999
  • Publication City/Country: London
  • ISBN 10: 1857028295
  • ISBN 13: 9781857028294
  • Illustrations note: (1 x 16pp b/w)
  • Sales rank: 112,591

Product description

The biography of a mathematical genius. Paul Erdos was the most prolific pure mathematician in history and, arguably, the strangest too. '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 he died. He travelled constantly, living out of a plastic bag and had no interest in food, sex, companionship, art - all that is usually indispensible to a human life. Paul Hoffman, in this marvellous biography, gives us a vivid and strangely moving portrait of this singular creature, one that brings out not only Erdos's genius and his oddness, but his warmth and sense of fun, the joyfulness of his strange life.' Oliver Sacks For six decades Erdos had no job, no hobbies, no wife, no home; he never learnt to cook, do laundry, drive a car and died a virgin. Instead he travelled the world with his mother in tow, arriving at the doorstep of esteemed mathematicians declaring 'My brain is open'. He travelled until his death at 83, racing across four continents to prove as many theorems as possible, fuelled by a diet of espresso and amphetamines. With more than 1,500 papers written or co-written, a daily routine of 19 hours of mathematics a day, seven days a week, Paul Erdos was one of the most extraordinary thinkers of our times.

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Author information

Paul Hoffman is publisher of Encyclopaedia Brittanica and the science correspondent for The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer on US TV.

Review quote

"Hoffman's playful, plainspoken and often hilarious biography of a monkish, impish, generous genius is purest pleasure." Mail on Sunday "Paul Hoffman's wittily articulated life of the mathematical genius Paul Erdos opens a door to a sunlit upland of pure logic, populated by bungee-bouncing, bearded maniacs and absurdly intelligent men who never learnt to tie their own shoelaces...Anyone with an interest in the science of numbers should read this." Observer "The Man Who Loved Only Numbers is one of the most accessible and engaging introductions to the world of pure mathematics you are ever likely to come across." Graham Farmelo, Sunday Telegraph "A wonderful, playful, insightful life of this century's most unusual mathematician." Ian Stewart, Independent

Editorial reviews

An affectionate if impressionistic portrayal of one of the century's greatest and strangest mathematicians. Though little known among nonmathematicians, Erdos, who died in 1996 at age 83, was a legend among his colleagues. According to Hoffman (Archimedes' Revenge, 1988), the Hungarian was so devoted to mathematics that he went without wife, children, steady job, or even a home, preferring to exist as the wandering guest of fellow mathematicians. He lived for math, announcing his visits with a hearty, "My brain is open," posing and solving problems while subsisting on amphetamines and coffee (" 'A mathematician,' Erdos was fond of saying, 'is a machine for turning coffee into theorems' "), and forgoing pleasantries like "Good morning" to jump right in with, "Let n be an integer." He published more than 1,500 papers with at least 484 coauthors, who pride themselves on their "Erdos number of 1" (a figure indicating one's degree of separation from the master). Hoffman, who traveled with and interviewed many of his collaborators, weaves oral histories and clear mathematical explication into a digressive (sometimes too digressive), entertaining whole. Hoffman creates a full-bodied and eccentric character out of hundreds of quotations and anecdotes. Missing are the linear landmarks of conventional biography: Erdos doesn't get born until page 48, a precise account of his death is absent, and his most important mathematical discoveries are nowhere summarized. Though a biography, this book works like the best fiction, finding in a concrete universal to show what mathematics is and who the people are who uncover its truths. (Kirkus Reviews)