The Man Who Loved Only Numbers

I enjoyed reading Mark’s infinite hotel posting today. I’ve recently finished reading “The Man Who Loved Only Numbers”, a biography (actually more of an oral history) of the mathematician Paul Erdös.

Erdös is famous in mathematical circles for both his genius and his productivity. So much so that a low Erdös Number is a badge of honour amongst mathematicians. If you’ve got an Erdös Number of 1 then you collaborated with him directly; your number if 2 if you’ve collaborated with a collaborator, etc. The collaboration graph data is published if you’re interested. (I’ve been playing with it a bit recently).
The Man Who Loved Only Numbers is an excellent book, apart from the joy of discovery the wonderfully eccentric Erdös, the book covers a lot of interesting mathematical research and discoveries. Cantor’s work on infinite sets is amongst them.
The book provides some glimpses into how mathematical research is carried out, and the enthusiasm that mathematicians have for their subject. I wish I’d read this whilst I was at school, maybe then I’d have had more enthusiasm for the subject
Anyway if you enjoyed Mark’s posting then you’ll enjoy The Man Who Loved Only Numbers. It’s a great book.

3 thoughts on “The Man Who Loved Only Numbers

  1. My girlfriend (who has a Master’s in Maths) has been trying to get me to read this book for _months_. Maybe I’ll get around to it now.
    If you enjoy maths-based literature, Uncle Petros and Goldbach’s Conjecture by Apostolos Doxiadis is a good read, as of course, is Fermat’s Last Theorum by Simon Singh

  2. I read the Singh book a while ago and enjoyed that too, but it didn’t instill in me a desire to read more maths-based literature the same way TMWLON has.
    Perhaps it’s because they’re very different stories: one the quest of a lone mathematician, one the story of a gregarious eccentric.
    There’s a brief passage in TMWLON where Erdös comments on Andrew Wiles’s approach, criticising him for locking himself away from the rest of mathematical society.
    Probably understandable though given there was a cash prize available and obsessions being what they are.
    I’ll look out Goldbach’s Conjecture. I’ve also got the Number Devil on my shelf which I’ve not read yet; Rael Dornfest recommended this to me a few years ago but I’ve still not done much except dip into it.
    Probably a bit simplistic for your girlfriend though πŸ™‚

  3. with a summary like this:
    “Robert and the number devil use giant furry calculators, piles of coconuts, and endlessly scrolling paper to introduce basic concepts of numeracy”
    how could she fail to love it? πŸ™‚

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