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Sunday, November 3, 2013

The Boy Who Loved Math: The Improbable Life of Paul Erdos. Written by Deborah Heiligman and illustrated by LeUyen Pham. Roaring Brook Press, Macmillan. Raincoast, 2013. $ 19.99 ages 10 and up


Mama sent him to school, of course, when it was time. But Paul and school were not a good match. Paul could not sit still for long. So he got up and ran around the classroom. But that was against the rules. Oh, how Paul hated rules. How could he solve this problem?"

Nothing that has been said about Paul Erdos could ever be said about me!
I was not born in Hungary. I was not born before World War II (although my kids think I was born before dirt) and I would never have preferred numbers to friends when I was a little girl. My mind does not have a mathematical bone in its body!

Paul Erdos did not appreciate his nanny's rules, when he was left in her care. He could do nothing about it. So, he thought ahead:

"But, Paul knew that when summer came, Mama would be home with him all day. 100% of the time. So he taught himself to count - really high. Then he figured out how many days it would be until summer vacation. It made him feel better to know the number."

Paul was 3, his mother was back working as a math teacher, and life had changed immeasurably for both. Paul thought about numbers all the time. When he was 4 he could calculate in his head how many seconds a person had been living! When school and its many rules proved a great annoyance, he was able to convince his mother that it was not the place for him, and she left him in the care of his nanny once more. Paul was not allowed to do anything for himself, which gave him all the time in the world to contemplate the world of mathematics.

When he was 10, he fell in love with prime numbers. Amazing! He was a brilliant man who made friends easily, shared his knowledge of math with great joy and changed the world of mathematics for many. He showed what fun it could be. His ability with numbers and his inability to take care of himself led him to choose a most unusual lifestyle...he made the world his home and spent his time travelling from one place to another, staying with friends and always teaching:

"Why did friends all over the world put up with him?
And take care of him? Call him Uncle Paul and love him?

Because Paul Erdos was a genius - and he shared his brain. He helped people with their math problems and gave them more problems to do. Plus, he was a math matchmaker. He introduced mathematicians all over the world to one another so they could work together."

This terrific book is a celebration of the man...brilliant, witty, loving, generous. Deborah Heiligman has most assuredly done her research and she very much liked the man she came to know. She shares her admiration with us. I so appreciate the way she and LeUyen Pham bring his personality to the reading. The book is cleverly designed to intrigue and appeal to all readers. The author gives us a man to love and admire. The artist incorporates mathematics in every spread.
At the back of the book both author and illustrator add a detailed note. Ms. Pham explains how she has used prime numbers at every possible opportunity. Both also provide a detailed acknowledgement for help in the making of the book.

A heartfelt tribute to the man ends this quite remarkable read:

"A long time ago there was a boy who loved
math. Numbers were his best friends.
He grew up to be the man who loved math.
Numbers and people were his best friends.
Paul Erdos had no problem with that."

The following documentary is well worth your attention, and will give additional insight into the man himself.          

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