Synopses & Reviews
Paul Erdos, the most prolific and eccentric mathematician of our time, forsook all creature comforts including a home to pursue his lifelong study of numbers. He was a man who possessed unimaginable powers of thought yet was unable to manage some of the simplest daily tasks. For more than six decades, Erdos lived out of two tattered suitcases, crisscrossing four continents at a frenzied pace, chasing mathematical problems and fresh talent. Erdos saw mathematics as a search for lasting beauty and ultimate truth. It was a search Erdos never abandoned, even as his life was torn asunder by some of the major political dramas of our time. In this biography, Hoffman uses Erdos's life and work to introduce readers to a cast of remarkable geniuses, from Archimedes to Stanislaw Ulam, one of the chief minds behind the Los Alamos nuclear project. He draws on years of interviews with Ronald Graham and Fan Chung, Erdos's chief American caretakers and devoted collaborators. With an eye for the hilarious anecdote, Hoffman explains mathematical problems from Fermat's Last Theorem to the more frivolous "Monty Hall dilemma." What emerges is an intimate look at the world of mathematics and an indelible portrait of Erdos, a charming and impish philosopher-scientist whose accomplishments continue to enrich and inform our world.
"Marvelous...a vivid and strangely moving portrait of this singular creature, one that brings out not only Erdos' genius and his oddness, but his warmth and sense of fun, the joyfulness of his strange life." Oliver Sacks
"Hoffman did not intend to produce a scholarly scientific biography....This book opens doors on a world and characters that are often invisible....Hoffman...and others in the book remember the mathematical tidbit that first intrigued them and bound them to this world." James Alexander, The New York Times Book Review
"Hoffman...describes Erdös' life and eccentricities engagingly and deals comprehensively with the great man's mathematical work." Scientific American
"An affectionate if impressionistic portrayal of one of the century's greatest and strangest mathematicians. Though little known among nonmathematicians, Erdös, 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,' Erdös 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.'...Hoffman creates a full-bodied and eccentric character out of hundreds of quotations and anecdotes. Missing are the linear landmarks of conventional biography: Erdös 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
"...a completely absorbing, fast-paced memoir....Hoffman also has brought vividly, very vividly, to life the world of pure mathematics and the psychologically fragile mathematicians who pursue the ultimate beauty that comes in the form of elegant proofs to seemingly unsolvable problems." Kay Redfield Jamison, The Washington Post Book World
Based on a National Magazine Award-winning article, this masterful biography of Hungarian-born Paul Erdos is both a vivid portrait of an eccentric genius and a layman's guide to some of this century's most startling mathematical discoveries.
About the Author
Hoffman is the publisher of Encyclopedia Britannica. He is the host of the five-part PBS series "Great Minds of Science" and a frequent correspondent on television shows such as CBS "This Morning" and "The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer."