BKMBRNOP.RVW 20000407
"My Brain is Open", Bruce Schechter, 1998, 0-684-85980-7,
U$13.00/C$19.00
%A Bruce Schechter
%C 1230 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10020
%D 1998
%G 0-684-85980-7
%I Simon & Schuster/Touchstone
%O U$13.00/C$19.00 +1-212-698-7541 www.simonsays.com
%P 224 p.
%T "My Brain is Open: The Mathematical Journeys of Paul Erdos"
The story of Paul Erdos, peripatetic mathematician, is certainly
fascinating. His mathematical work is important enough, but of equal
or greater significance is the social, or perhaps literary, concept
known to mathematicians as the Erdos number (see
http://www.acs.oakland.edu/~grossman/erdoshp.html). Erdos
collaborated, or co-authored papers, with over five hundred
colleagues, and that number is climbing even after his death, as work
stimulated by conversations with him continues to be published.
Schechter's account of Erdos' unsettled life is seamlessly integrated
with the mathematics that inspired it. In fact, I cannot recall
another biography which so carefully weaves the technical content in
with the biographical facts. Interestingly, it is not Erdos' work
itself which is included, but the basic work of proofs, particularly
number theory. In this way, the text illuminates, as far as may be
possible, the world of the mathematician, even for the
non-mathematical reader. This tutelary factor improves the vitality
of the work: Erdos was an obsessed man, and the author goes a long way
to demonstrating even to those who don't share this obsession what and
why it is.
The Erdos who inhabits Schechter's book is not necessarily appealing,
despite the author's sympathetic treatment. The picture we are
presented with, reading between the lines, is not that of a happy or
attractive person. Productive, prolific, and undeniably portentous he
was, but also unusual and unsettled. The constant travel and endless
collaborations can be seen as a rejection of the standards of a world
in which he did not, early on, succeed, and the stream of work can
also appear as a distraction from a life which had almost none of the
normal attachments.
Still, the book itself is an excellent piece of work in terms of
scientific biography.
copyright Robert M. Slade, 2000 BKMBRNOP.RVW 20000407