Thursday, September 5, 2013

The Boy Who Loved Math: The Improbable Life of Paul Erdős, by Deborah Heiligman

By Deborah Heiligman
Illustrated by LeUyen Pham

Meet Paul Erdős, a boy growing up in Budapest in the early 1900s who loves numbers so much that he considers numbers his best friends. Paul’s mother, who is a math teacher, lets Paul stay home from school so he can spend all day puzzling over prime numbers and other mathematical topics.  Paul does go to high school and eventually travels throughout the world, becoming a renowned mathematician who shares his knowledge with colleagues in such areas as number theory and the probabilistic method. A lousy houseguest who is lacking in daily-living skills such as buttering bread and doing the laundry, Paul is nonetheless a generous individual and a beloved connector of people—a “mathematical matchmaker”. To this day, mathematicians talk about their  “Erdős number”—if you worked with Erdős you have an Erdős number of 1. If you worked with someone who worked with Erdős, you have an Erdős number of 2, etc.

It is a joy to accompany Erdős on his mathematical life journey, and for this we have to thank an author whose enthusiasm and affection for the subject truly shine through. The illustrations are also an important part of this book—allowing it to be read on varying levels. Younger children will appreciate the vivid pictures of Budapest and comical depictions of Paul’s social missteps, while older children will learn mathematical concepts by attending to details that are cleverly camouflaged in the drawings and explained in a note from the illustrator at the back of the volume. This book makes a good read-aloud, and parents who find themselves wanting to learn more about Erdős may wish to consult The Man Who Loved Only Numbers, by Paul Hoffman, also in our collection. 2013

D. Rosen-Perez

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