This is a biography of Paul Erdős - the 20th century Jewish Hungarian mathematician famous for his work in combinatorics, graph theory and probability. Erdős is the second most prolific publisher of scientific papers in history, after Leonhard Euler himself, having written a whopping 1475 mathematical articles in his lifetime with 511 different collaborators. He was certainly a unique and eccentric character, a living example of how weird some genial mathematicians can get. Paul Hoffman does a good job of describing central episodes from his life and work. In addition to providing Erdős's biography, the book also tries to fill the traditional "math for laymen" niche by presenting several relatively simple problems with solutions, and discussing some of the latest breakthroughts in mathematics (including a discussion of Wiles' proof of Fermat Last Theorem, which will be quite boring and repetitive to those who've read Singh's famous book). All in all it's a quick and pleasant read, though not much different from many other books on this subject. In particular, if you're seeking inspiration, this isn't the right book to read. Erdős was certainly an one-in-a-million genious and had major in-born abilities for mathematics. Churning out dozens of papers in your 70s is no small feat that few of the most brilliant mathematicians in history managed. The most inspiring parts are perhaps how Erdős attempted to promote collaboration and openness, by working together with so many different people, and being a guide and mentor to lots of others.


comments powered by Disqus