Beautiful Minds, Strange Lives, and Large Hearts

I’ve admired the mathematician Paul Erdös for a long time: for his legendary eccentricity, heroic output, and his groundbreaking work on random graphs. Yet I only recently got around to reading his biography, The Man Who Loved Only Numbers.The most astounding aspect of the story to me was not his odd genious and single-minded—almost manic—pursuit of mathematical truth, but his unfailing generosity. A great man with an open brain and an open heart!

Other mathematical biographies I’ve enjoyed include A Beautiful Mind,the (un-Hollywood-ized) story of John Nash, and Andrew Hodges’ Alan Turing: The Enigma.Although probably a bit dated, E.T. Bell’s Men of Mathematicsis still on my to-read list (it’s a very long list!)

I owe my interest in the lives and personalities of mathematicians to one of my old math professors, a bit of a character himself, who interspersed nearly impenetrable lectures on complex analysis with stories of the quirks and foibles of mathematical greats like Riemann and Banach. By the standards of Waterloo math profs at the time, he, too, was remarkably generous.

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