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

By Paul Hoffman

Synopsis: 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 two 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.

WINNER OF THE 1999 RHONE-POULENC PRIZE (Royal Society Book Prize)

Published: July 1998 | ISBN-13: 978-0786884063

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Our Interview: Science Book a Day Interviews Paul Hoffman

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Mathematical Association of America Book Review

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