The Boy Who Loved Math: The Improbable Life of Paul Erdos by Deborah Heiligman, illustrated by LeUyen Pham
Paul Erdos grew up loving math from a very young age. Growing up in Budapest, Hungary, Paul loved to think about numbers. Unfortunately, he didn’t love school with all of its rules, so he was homeschooled by Fraulein, his nanny, until he went to high school. Paul grew famous for his math but he still could not take care of himself and do his own laundry, cook his meals or even butter his own bread. So when at age 21 he was invited to go to England to work on his math, he was worried about whether he could do it. It turned out that buttering bread was not that difficult and that he would follow his own sort of lifestyle that ignored the rules. So he traveled and did math around the world, staying with fellow mathematicians and relying on them to take care of him and his laundry and his meals. He was the furthest thing from a stereotypical solitary mathematician to the point that people now have an “Erdos number” that shows how closely they worked with the amazing mathematician Paul Erdos.
This is such a wonderful biography. It is a breath of fresh air in so many ways. First, it plays against the stereotype of introverted and shy mathematicians working in solitude on formulas and instead shows Erdos as a vivacious man who didn’t just work with others, but depended on them. Second, it shows mathematics as ever changing and new, something that is enticing and exciting. Heiligman uses a light tone throughout as well as an obvious respect for Erdos’ brilliance and accomplishments.
The illustrations share the same playful feel of the text. Done in bold colors and dynamic motion, they have a humor that is welcome as well. The look on Erdos’ face as he tries to butter his own bread for the first time is priceless and wonderful. Children will be amazed that such a bright man would struggle with basic tasks.
A pleasure to read, this is an unusual biography that will make a welcome addition to nonfiction shelves. Appropriate for ages 6-9.
Reviewed from library copy.