**The Man Who Loved Only Numbers**, last week and wanted to give a little more complete book review about what I learned, not only about Erdős, but about mathematicians in general. Hoffman discusses many famous thinkers, along with mathematics in general and why he thinks it's important.

Permission granted by Fan Chung Graham 11/9/07 |

Hoffman shows that many mathematicians are a little bit crazy. In fact, the last chapter in the book is titled, "We Mathematicians Are All a Little Bit Crazy." I remember the movie "

**A Beautiful Mind,**"about John Forbes Nash, a Nobel laureate, who suffered from schizophrenia. Apparently paranoid schizophrenia often comes with a highly creative mind, which makes me wonder why. I learned about several paranoid but brilliant mathematicians who managed to continue their work with this debilitating affliction. The fact that Erdős was so eccentric is not as surprising once you read Hoffman's book and read about some

*really*odd fellows.

I also learned to appreciate math and numbers in a way I never had before. It was very interesting to read about how the concept of zero came into being. Roman numerals were the only game in town throughout the Dark Ages. Fibonnaci was born in Pisa in the twelfth century and studied Euclid and other Greek mathematicians. He wrote a book that became the most influential work in getting the West to convert to Hindu-Arabic numerals. He helped to show how superior they were, and it seems hard to imagine a world today without the concept of zero or negative numbers. The Greeks had no trouble subtracting three cows from six cows, for example, but they didn't take seriously the concept of minus three cows. From pp. 212-213 in the book:

The concept of prime numbers also fascinates me now, after finishing the book and understanding their importance. I can't actually SEE a prime like many mathematicians can, but it makes sense to me now that so many mathematicians have spent their entire careers with those magical numbers. Just as an aside, as I was reading the book I realized that the first day of the upcoming new year will be 1/1/11 (eleven is a prime number). So I guess you could say a little of the religion has rubbed off on me. A very little.As Martin Gardner put it, "A cow from a cow leaves nothing, but adding a negative cow to a positive cow, causing both to vanish like a particle meeting its antiparticle, seems as ridiculous as the old joke about the individual whose personality was so negative that when he walked into a party, the guests would look around and ask, 'Who left?' "

:-)

This sounds like a very interesting book and a very interesting man. I may have to get this book. I tend to read "fluff" because I read before I go to bed and I can't concentrate too hard at that point. But I think I'm going to get this one. I loved the move "A Beautiful Mind".

ReplyDeleteThe book I'm almost finished with right now is "Shanghai Girls". It's very good! Much about WW11 and two sisters living through it.

smiles at the little...some mathmaticians just fascinate me...i dabbled for a bit..a statician doing surveys of race and gender attitudes back in college to make some extra money and really it was fascinating

ReplyDeleteElder daughter and husband's brother both majored in math in college. However, neither is a schizophrenic, and neither is eccentric.

ReplyDeleteI admire anybody who understands the world of mathematics, though. Words and I are friends, but I can't say the same about numbers and me. lol.

Fascinating ( have you read ZERO?) but it all continues to fail to explain WHY, if two negatives equal a positive, why my checkbook is overdrawn.... :}

ReplyDeleteMy father had only an 8th grade education but loved mathematics; I've always been good at math but in a uniquely distinctive way few could understand, and of course you know your niece has a masters in mathematics. In the genes, I guess.

ReplyDeleteI'm not at all mathematically inclined but I can understand your appreciation of the book. That quote made me smile. :)

ReplyDeleteNot just mathematicians, we are all crazy in our own unique ways. For me, I don't like someone deciding what is "normal". We each decide for ourselves. Sounds like you enjoyed reading the book and I will put it on my list to find. Thanks.

ReplyDeleteI think not only brilliant mathematicians are eccentric. Other brilliant people seem to have different behaviours. Have you read"The Man Who Loved China" by Simon Wnchester? this is a biography about Joseph Needham. A very interesting book.

ReplyDeleteIt seems a shame that brilliant minds usually suffer from some sort of mental disorder. People with autism can be geniuses too. Makes you wonder what happens with the brain's "wiring" that causes such a short circuit.

ReplyDeleteHe sounds like a fascinating man, I will have to add this book to my wish list. Thanks for the review DJan.

ReplyDeleteI've always envied people that are so good in math. After reading this...maybe not so much. Sounds like a good book...I'll put it on my list. I have a cousin that's a genius with words and language. He was an editor for Miriam Webster dictionary in New York, and also was a Russian translator for the U.N....and I remember him as a bit of a crazy person. I wonder if this works the same with those gifted in language.

ReplyDeleteYou made that subject seem interesting. I saw 'A Beautiful Mind' and enjoyed it very much, understanding the concept of how an extremely creative person can observe the world. I know we are all different in that respect. We all perceive the world in totally different ways, all very interesting.

ReplyDeleteBlessings, Star

This account reminds me of a retired math teacher who was employed by our board of education to work part time in some schools to fire up the love of numbers among the students. He lived and breathed mathematics.

ReplyDeleteI really enjoyed this post and reread it twice. I may get the book and read it as I also enjoy numbers but not mathematics. If I enjoyed or liked mathematics then I would have to give up some of my illusions or delusions about numbers and zero plays an important role in all of them. I have posted about it several times and most people come away totally confused or in the belief that I lost my mind.

ReplyDeleteyou had me at 'crazy'

ReplyDeleteI'm going to read this book

That must be why I'm so sane. I'm hopeless at math. Figures.

ReplyDeleteI am not sure about reading about math – this was never my best subject. But you make this mathematician sounds so interesting. I like that you are interested in many various subjects – you have a brilliant mind too.

ReplyDeleteThis math has really got your attention. Are you able to figure out more?

ReplyDeleteHow'd I miss this post? I read this book years ago, and I just loved it. Let me tell you, there aren't many ladies looking forward to reading about mathematicians in my book group! I loved Erdos, I loved his passion and his genius and the kindness of those who looked after him. I love that smart math type people track their Erdos number, because he is a math rock star. I loaned my copy to a geeky friend and had to buy another one so it was on my shelf where I could see it!

ReplyDeleteGlad you liked it too.