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

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


Paul Erdos was the world's foremost mathematician, driven on a never-ending quest for mathematical truth across the globe. Paul Erdos is a prominent Hungarian mathematician known for his eccentric behavior and endless stream of mathematical insight. Now in his 70's, Paul has been active for nearly his entire life. He holds the record for most published works by any academic in any field - more than 1500! As an old man, Erdos's output is not diminished. Mathematics are his sole preoccupation and he travels the world making collaborations with other thinkers. For years, Paul has been discovering excellent young mathematical minds. It is not uncommon for him to meet child prodigies and send them postcards with mathematical problems written on them, always just the sort of problems that interest them personally. Having done this for decades, Erdos now has collaborators in dozens of countries. His life is spent journeying from place to place, staying for a week or a month with mathematicians, and making advancements in their science. He stays awake for 19 hours a day with the aid of amphetamines and coffee. He is celibate, eats little, and travels with all of his belongings in a plastic bag. Colleagues describe his particular kind of inspiration as the kind of insight usually possessed only by the very young. Through his discipline and obsession the elderly Erdos has managed to keep his mind young.
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We learn about Erdos' childhood, raised by a mother who immediately recognized his genius. His relationship with her was strangely close. It is rumored that she bathed him into his teenage years. He remains deeply devoted to her all his life, living with her until the time of her death. The death of his mother is something Erdos never truly gets over, but his grief only pushes his drive. Toward the end of his life, he has collaborated so widely that those who have worked with him begin to be assigned a number, as a joke in academic circles. People who published with Erdos are Erdos 1's. Those who worked with a direct collaborator of Erdos are Erdos 2's, and some on. Paul dies at the age of 83 while attending a conference on mathematics. He leaves behind a legacy of inspiration and insight, particularly in the field of number theory, having advanced the understanding of prime numbers.
Best part of story, including ending: Erdos is a character. He has his own humorous vernacular that is very funny. He's also very difficult for anyone to live with because all he cares about is math. He was an unusual and special person.

Best scene in story: Paul will occasionally fall asleep when someone is talking to him, then wake up when they are finished and reply to what they said. It's a skill he seems to have acquired from sleeping so little.

Opinion about the main character: Paul Erdos is someone to be admired because he shows what can come of following a single path with your whole heart. It's not the life for everyone, but I can't help but admire someone who does this.

The review of this Book prepared by Andrew Black a Level 5 American Goldfinch scholar

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

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Plot & Themes

job/profession:    -   scientist/inventor Job/profession/poverty story    -   Yes Period of greatest activity?    -   1950+

Subject of Biography

Gender    -   Male Profession/status:    -   scientist Ethnicity    -   White Nationality    -   Eastern European Unusual characteristics:    -   Genius

Setting

How much descriptions of surroundings?    -   1 () Europe    -   Yes

Writing Style

Book makes you feel?    -   in awe How much dialogue in bio?    -   significantly more descript than dialog How much of bio focuses on most famous period of life?    -   76%-100% of book

Books with storylines, themes & endings like The Man Who Loved Only Numbers: The Story of Paul Erdos and the Search for Mathematical Truth

Paul Hoffman Books Note: the views expressed here are only those of the reviewer(s).
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