The Boy Who Loved Math: The Improbable Life of Paul Erdos

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Overview

Most people think of mathematicians as solitary, working away in isolation. And, it's true, many of them do. But Paul Erdos never followed the usual path. At the age of four, he could ask you when you were born and then calculate the number of seconds you had been alive in his head. But he didn't learn to butter his own bread until he turned twenty. Instead, he traveled around the world, from one mathematician to the next, collaborating on an astonishing number of publications. With a simple, ...

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Overview

Most people think of mathematicians as solitary, working away in isolation. And, it's true, many of them do. But Paul Erdos never followed the usual path. At the age of four, he could ask you when you were born and then calculate the number of seconds you had been alive in his head. But he didn't learn to butter his own bread until he turned twenty. Instead, he traveled around the world, from one mathematician to the next, collaborating on an astonishing number of publications. With a simple, lyrical text and richly layered illustrations, this is a beautiful introduction to the world of math and a fascinating look at the unique character traits that made "Uncle Paul" a great man.

A Kirkus Reviews Best Book of 2013 A New York Times Book Review Notable Children's Book of 2013

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
As a boy in Budapest, Paul Erdos (1913–1996) had problems to solve, but they didn’t involve math. Rules were a problem, and school was another: “Paul told Mama he didn’t want to go to school anymore. Not for 1 more day, for 0 days. He wished he could take days away—negative school days!” Heiligman and Pham cleverly incorporate mathematical references through this story, which follows Erdos from a numbers-obsessed boy to a numbers-obsessed man who flouted societal norms and couch-surfed the globe—other mathematicians were honored to have him as a guest for the chance to talk math with him. Erdos’s unconventional brilliance shines through on every page, and extensive author and illustrator notes (including Pham’s explanations of the mathematical concepts she works into each illustration) will delight readers with even a fraction of Erdos’s interest in math. Ages 3–8. (June)
From the Publisher
"Erdos’s unconventional brilliance shines through on every page, and extensive author and illustrator notes (including Pham’s explanations of the mathematical concepts she works into each illustration) will delight readers with even a fraction of Erdos’s interest in math." —Publishers Weekly, starred review

*"An exuberant and admiring portrait introduces the odd, marvelously nerdy, way cool Hungarian-born itinerant mathematical genius." — Kirkus Reviews, starred review

 "An infinitely creative and entertaining book." — The Horn Book 

"Pair this with Don Brown’s Odd Boy Out (BCCB 10/04) to compare genius eccentricities, or hand it to middle-grade lovers of math puzzles—opened to the notes." — BCCB

Children's Literature - Ken Marantz and Sylvia Marantz
This life of mathematician Paul Erdos begins in Budapest, Hungary, when he is three. His loving mother goes back to teaching mathematics, leaving him with a Fraulein who has, he feels, "too any rules." Paul retreats into playing with numbers. In school he also finds too many rules, so he persuades his mother to leave him at home, where he can think about numbers all day. When he is ten, he becomes fascinated with prime numbers, and makes friends who love and do math with him. At twenty, he is a world famous mathematician, but still needs his mother to cook for him and do his laundry. Eventually he realizes that he is not a "regular" person. He flies all over the world working on advances in math, while others must take care of him. He is a difficult guest, but a genius. He continues to pursue mathematics until he dies. Pham accepted the challenge of depicting this complex combination of somewhat charming but comic characters dressed in period clothes in historical settings, along with elaborate math puzzles that float in the air or appear on the walls and roofs of buildings. It takes three pages of notes by the illustrator to explain their significance. There is a good-hearted effort, in mainly small vignettes, to sell the value of studying math and becoming affected by the challenging puzzles. A note by the author adds further information. Reviewer: Ken Marantz and Sylvia Marantz
School Library Journal
Gr 3–6—Erdös (1913–1996), the Hungarian-born son of two math teachers, displayed his fascination with numbers early on. Before entering school he could calculate the number of seconds a person had lived just by asking the time and date of their birth. Unable to sit still and follow rules in school, he was homeschooled by his mother. High school was a better fit, and he made friends with students who shared his love of math. His skills became famous, but Erdös didn't know how to do laundry, cook, or even butter his own bread. He "didn't fit into the world in a regular way." So, he created a life that fit him instead. For years he flew around the world, his modest belongings in two suitcases, working with other noted mathematicians. They worked on number and set theory as well as new ideas like combinatorics and the probabilistic method. Some of their efforts led to the better computers and search engines that we use today. The well-researched text and painstakingly accurate illustrations (in terms of setting and mathematics) provide a fascinating introduction to the man. The oversize eyes of the characters give many of them, especially Erdös, a rather maniacal look that is off-putting. The extensive endnotes provide much information and would be useful in a classroom setting. That may be the most likely scenario for exposing children to this picture-book biography. Only the most mathematically devoted would pick it up on their own.—Sara-Jo Lupo Sites, George F. Johnson Memorial Library, Endicott, NY
Kirkus Reviews
An exuberant and admiring portrait introduces the odd, marvelously nerdy, way cool Hungarian-born itinerant mathematical genius. Heiligman's joyful, warm account invites young listeners and readers to imagine a much-loved boy completely charmed by numbers. Paul Erdos was sweetly generous throughout his life with the central occupation of his great brain: solving mathematical problems. Unmoored from the usual ties of home and family once grown, he spent most of his career traveling the world to work with colleagues. Erdos was known for his ineptness at practical matters even as he was treasured, housed and fed by those with whom he collaborated in math. The polished, disarming text offers Pham free rein for lively illustration that captures Erdos' childlike spirit. She uses a slightly retro palette and line to infuse Erdos' boyhood surroundings with numbers and diagrams, conveying the idea that young Paul lived and breathed math. She populates his adulthood with his affectionate colleagues, even including a graph with Erdos at the center of several dozen of the great mathematical minds of the 20th century to illustrate the whimsical "Erdos number" concept. An extensive author's note includes a bit more biographical information about Erdos and points to George Csicsery's 1993 film N is a Number as well as to Heiligman's website for links for further exploration. Pham's illustrator's note invites young readers to go page by page to learn about the kinds of numbers that captivated Erdos and to meet him among his cherished mathematicians. Social learners and budding math lovers alike will find something awesome about this exceptional man. (Picture book/biography. 3-9)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781596433076
  • Publisher: Roaring Brook Press
  • Publication date: 6/25/2013
  • Pages: 44
  • Sales rank: 44,587
  • Age range: 3 - 8 Years
  • Product dimensions: 8.10 (w) x 10.20 (h) x 0.50 (d)

Meet the Author

Deborah Heiligman has written numerous books for young readers, including Charles and Emma: The Darwins' Leap of Faith, a National Book Award finalist. She lives in New York City. deborahheiligman.com

LeUyen Pham has illustrated dozens of books for kids, including God's Dream by Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Freckleface Strawberry by Julianne Moore, and her own Big Sister, Little Sister. leuyenpham.com

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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Posted January 29, 2014

    Paul Erdös was not a typical youngster.  At the age of four, he

    Paul Erdös was not a typical youngster.  At the age of four, he could ask you when you were born and then calculate the number of seconds you had been alive in his head,  The irony?  He didn't learn to butter his own bread until he was twenty. Paul was an eccentric boy growing up in Hungary during World War 1 and a math genius.  He did not like to play by the rules and convinced his mom not to send him to school but to study at home. She allowed him to do so and she and imperious "Fräulein" dressed him and even tied his shoes every day.  Also by the time he was 20 he was known as "The Magician from Budapest."  Although he was unable to cook, do laundry or drive he spent his adult life flying around the world, visiting other mathematicians, and working collaboratively on very challenging math problems. Erdös truly saw the world through a mathematical lens.  Heiligman and Pham cleverly incorporate mathematical references throughout the story.  Other mathematicians were honoured to have him as a guest and talk math with him.   Paul "thought about math whatever he was doing, wherever he was" and he grew into one of the world's top math geniuses.  He did not want to settle down but to keep on his global math journey while others "did his laundry and cooked his food and cut open his grapefruit and paid his bills." The artwork is wonderful and rich.  Each character is timeless and and each illustration is a puzzle to be solved. The author and illustrator have included notes which give further detail of this extraordinary man's life. Recommended for junior/middle school students I am sure this book will be greatly received by them.

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